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LANGUAGE IN THOUGHT 
AND ACTION 




LANGUAGE 
IN THOUGHT 
AND 
ACTION 

BY 

S. I. HAYAKAWA 


In Consultation 
with 

Basil H. Pillard 

Antioch College 


London 

GEORGE ALLEN & UNWIN LTD 


RUSKIN HOUSE - MUSEUM STREET 



This book is copyright under the Berne Convention. 
Apart from any fair dealing for the purposes of 
private study , research , criticism or reueiw y as per- 
mitted under the Copyright Act igxi, no portion 
may be reproduced by any process without written 
permission. Enquiry should be made to the publisher. 


PRINTED IN GREAT BRITAIN 
BY NOVELLO & COMPANY 


[.ON DON 



Foreword 


This book began as a revision of Language in Action, published 
in 1941. Events since that date have naturally caused me to re- 
examine the whole of that earlier book. Some statements to be 
found there, unhappily, have been given a sharper, tragic signifi- 
cance by ensuing events; some statements, on the other hand, 
especially those in which it was asserted that the semantic discipline 
could be applied to the solution of many social and individual 
problems, now appear to me to have been somewhat oversimplified. 
I still believe that such application is possible; but it is not quite 
so easy as I am afraid I made it sound. The deeper I got into the 
task of revision, the graver the deficiencies and omissions seemed 
to be. The attempt to repair these deficiencies has resulted in some- 
thing more than a revised Language in Action . So much has been 
changed and so much has been added that more than half the 
material in the present volume is new. 

Two tasks confront the student of semantics. The first is the 
refinement of the basic formulations of the science. This task is, 
naturally, highly technical and of deep concern to specialists. The 
second task, no less urgent, is that of translating what is already 
known in semantics into usable terms. Today, the public is aware, 
perhaps to an unprecedented degree, of the role of verbal com- 
munication in human affairs. This awareness arises partly, of 
course, out of the urgency of the tensions everywhere existing be- 
tween nation and nation, class and class, individual and individual, 
in a world that is changing with fantastic rapidity. It arises, too, 
out of the knowledge on the part even of the least reflective ele- 
ments of the population that enormous powers for good or evil 
lie in the media of mass communication. Thoughtful people in all 
walks of life feel, therefore, die need of systematic help in the huge 
task that confronts all of us today, namely, that of interpreting 



IV 


FOREWORD 


and evaluating the verbally received communications that pour in 
on us from all sides. 

But the task of providing that help is not an easy one, because 
the principles of semantics are extremely abstract, while the situa- 
tions in which semantic guidance is needed are appallingly con- 
crete. I have long known that the task*of a student of semantics who 
would help others cannot simply be that of enunciating general 
propositions, however true they may be. His task is to live and 
act, in as many situations as possible, with the semantic principles 
always in the back of his mind, so that, before he recommends 
them to others, he may see how they may (and may not) be 
applied to actual human problems. The years that have inter- 
vened between the publication of Language in Action and the 
present work have given me many opportunities to explore further 
and to test more thoroughly the general principles of linguistic 
interaction here set forth. During the last eight years I have, 
in addition to my usual tasks of writing and teaching and lecturing, 
spent a period of study and observation at the Menninger Clinic 
and Foundation at Topeka, Kansas; I have been an art student at 
the Institute of Design under the direction of that excellent artist 
and inspiring teacher, the late Laszlo Moholy-Nagy; I was for 
four years a columnist of the Chicago Defender, a Negro weekly, 
and during those same years was a regular book-reviewer for 
Book Wee\, the literary supplement of the Chicago Sun; I did 
some first-hand research in folk music and jazz; I served on the 
board of directors of a co-operative wholesale and was president 
of a small chain of co-operative grocery stores; I have had the 
privilege of association with art connoisseurs and collectors, and 
the equal privilege of association with self-taught folk musicians 
of the Negro community; last, and probably not least, I have be- 
come the father of two boys. All these experiences have helped to 
fill out my exposition of semantic theory; I have added many 
examples drawn from daily life and controversy; many of my con- 
victions have been strengthened through contact with problems in 
which the lack of semantic awareness among those involved has 
clearly been one of the sources of difficulty. The reader who has 
read Language in Action will find, I believe, that the present vol- 



FOREWORD 


V 


ume offers fewer generalizations in a form that leaves him asking, 
“Now that you’ve explained the principle, what do I do with it?” 

The following are some of the changes which, I hope, make 
Language in Thought and Action a fuller, clearer, and more useful 
book than the earlier work. In the first place, the ethical assump- 
tions underlying semantics h^ve been made explicit rather than 
left implicit. Semantics is the study of human interaction through 
the mechanisms of linguistic communication. Consequent to the 
exchange of communications, co-operation sometimes results, and 
sometimes conflict. The basic ethical assumption of semantics, 
analogous to the medical assumption that health is preferable to 
illness, is that co-operation is preferable to conflict. I have tried to 
show why this assumption can (and must) be made, and have tried 
to unify the entire book around it as a central theme. 

Secondly, a great deal of new material has been added under the 
heading of “Applications” at the end of each chapter. A book on 
semantics is not something simply to be read and put aside. Its 
principles, to be meaningful, must be tried out in one’s own think- 
ing and speaking and writing and behavior; they must be tested 
against one’s own observation and experience. The “Applications” 
therefore have a double purpose: they offer a means whereby the 
reader may, in addition to reading about semantics, absorb the 
semanticist’s point of view through the undertaking of actual se- 
mantic investigations and exercises; they also are a way of urging 
the reader not to take the writer’s word for anything that is in this 
book. 

In the present volume, some of the technical terms used in Lan- 
guage in Action have been abandoned; those which have been 
retained are, I hope, applied with greater consistency and defined 
more sharply than was formerly the case. Among the new materials 
added is a chapter offering the outlines of a semantic theory of 
literature — one which will contribute, I hope, to the uniting of 
psychological and literary approaches to the evaluation of literary 
art. In the discussion of the language of social criticism and social 
change, an attempt has been made to show (especially in Chapter 
12, “The Society Behind the Symbols” and in Chapter 1 6, the dis- 
cussion of social institutions and cultural lag) the degree to which 



VI 


FOREWORD 


knowledge of fields other than semantics is necessary to those who 
aspire to apply semantics to social problems. The uses of the “ab- 
straction ladder” as a critical instrument for the examination and 
evaluation of writing and speaking (one’s own or other people’s) 
have been made considerably more explicit and, I trust, more useful. 
The interrelatedness of the various functions of language has also 
been stressed and, I hope, clarified. Additional stress has been given, 
too, to the use of semantics as an instrument of self-knowledge and 
self-criticism. 

My deepest debt in this book is to the General Semantics (“non- 
Aristotelian system”) of Alfred Korzybski. I have also drawn 
heavily upon the works of other contributors to semantics: espe- 
cially Ogden and Richards, Leonard Bloomfield, Thurman Arnold, 
Jean Piaget, Charles Morris, Wendell Johnson, Susanne Langer, 
and Kenneth Burke. I am also deeply indebted to the writings of 
numerous psychologists and psychiatrists with one or another of 
the dynamic points of view which stem from Sigmund Freud: 
Karl Menninger, Karen Horney, Trigant Burrow, Carl R. Rogers, 
Franz Alexander, Thomas French, Rudolph Dreikurs, and many 
others. I have also found extremely helpful the writings of many 
cultural anthropologists: especially those of Benjamin Lee Whorf, 
Ruth Benedict, and Margaret Mead. In the past several years, 
semantic insight — i.e., insight into human symbolic behavior and 
into human interaction through symbolic mechanisms — has come 
from all sorts of disciplines: not only from linguistics, philosophy, 
psychology, and cultural anthropology, but also from attitude re- 
search and public opinion study, from new techniques in psycho- 
therapy, from physiology and neurology, from mathematical bio- 
physics and cybernetics. How are all these separate insights to be 
brought together and synthesized? This is a task which Lcannot 
claim to have performed here, but I have examined the problem 
long enough to believe that it cannot be done without some set of 
broad and informing principles such as is to be found in the Gen- 
eral Semantics of Korzybski. 

Since anything approaching a full citation of sources would have 
made these pages unduly formidable in appearance, I have appended, 
in lieu of detailed documentation, a list of books (pp. 309-312) 



FOREWORD 


VU 


which I have found especially useful. However, none of the authors 
whose works I have profited by is to be held accountable for the 
errors or shortcomings of this book or for the liberties I have taken 
in the restatement, application, and modification of existing theories. 

Many persons have made comments, raised questions, and offered 
suggestions which have helped to shape the present work. Professor 
Basil H. Pillard, who for many years has been applying semantics 
to the teaching of English and to student counseling at Antioch 
College > Yellow Springs, Ohio, has gone over the manuscript word 
by word; he has offered innumerable valuable suggestions and has 
supplied more than half of the “Applications.” To him, and to his 
students who tried out many of the “Applications” as classroom 
exercises and offered criticisms of many chapters of the manuscript, 
I owe a profound debt of thanks. Professor James M. McCrimmon, 
of the Humanities Division of the University of Illinois, has also 
given extraordinarily practical and helpful suggestions which have 
influenced almost every chapter of this book. 

S. I. H. 

Chicago , Illinois 




Contents 


Foreword iii 

A Semantic Parable I 


Boo\ One the functions of language 


I 

Language and Survival 

ii 

2 

Symbols 

24 

3 

The Language of Reports 

38 

4 

Contexts 

54 

5 

The Language of Social Cohesion 

69 

6 

The Double Task of Language 

82 

7 

The Language of Social Control 

100 

8 

The Language of Affective Communication 

117 

9 

Art and Tension 

M 3 

Boo\ TWO LANGUAGE AND THOUGHT 


10 

HoV We Know What We Know 

165 

II 

The Little Man Who Wasn’t There 

186 

12 

The Society Behind Our Symbols 

196 

*3 

Classification 

208 

J 4 

The Two-Valued Orientation 

221 



X 


CONTENTS 


15 The Great Snafu 

248 

16 Rats and Men 

271 

17 Towards Order Within and Without 

291 

Selected Bibliography 

xi 

Acknowledgments 

XV 

Index 

xvii 



A Semantic Parable 


Once upon a time (said the Professor), there were two small 
communities, spiritually as well as geographically situated at a con- 
siderable distance from each other. They had, however, these prob- 
lems in common: Both were hard hit by a depression, so that in 
each of the towns there were about one hundred heads of families 
unemployed. There was, to be sure, enough food, enough clothing, 
enough materials for housing, but these families simply did not 
have money to procure these necessities. 

The city fathers of A-town, the first community, were substantial 
businessmen, moderately well educated, good to their families, kind- 
hearted, and* sound-thinking. The unemployed tried hard, as un- 
employed people usually do, to find jobs; but the situation did not 
improve. The city fathers, as well as the unemployed themselves, 
had been brought up to believe that there is always enough work 
for everyone, if you only look for it hard enough. Comforting them- 
selves with this doctrine, the city fathers could have shrugged their 
shoulders and turned their backs on the problem, except for the 
fact that they were genuinely kindhearted men. They could not 
bear to see the unemployed men and their wives and children starv- 
ing. In order to prevent starvation, they felt that they had to provide 
these people with some means of sustenance. Their principles told 
them, nevertheless, that if people were given something for nothing, 
it would demoralize their character. Naturally this made the city 
fathers#even more unhappy, because they were faced with the hor- 
rible choice of (i) letting the unemployed starve, or (2) destroying 
their moral character. 

The solution they finally hit upon, after much debate and soul- 
searching, was this. They decided to give the unemployed families 
relief of fifty dollars a month; but to insure against the pauperiza- 
tion of the recipients, they decided that this fifty dollars was to be 
accompanied by a moral lesson, to wit: the obtaining of the assist- 



2 


A SEMANTIC PARABLE 


ance would be made so difficult, humiliating, and disagreeable that 
there would be no temptation for anyone to go through the process 
unless it was absolutely necessary; the moral disapproval of the 
community would be turned upon the recipients of the money at 
all times in such a way that they would try hard to get of? relief 
and regain their self-respect. Some even proposed that people on 
relief be denied the vote, so that the moral lesson would be more 
deeply impressed upon them. Others suggested that their names be 
published at regular intervals in the newspapers, so that there would 
be a strong incentive to get off relief. The city fathers had enough 
faith in the goodness of human nature to expect that the recipients 
would be grateful, since they were getting something for nothing, 
something which they hadn’t worked for. 

When the plan was put into operation, however, the recipients 
of the relief checks proved to be an ungrateful, ugly bunch. They 
seemed to resent the cross-examinations and inspections at the hands 
of the relief investigators, who, they said, took advantage of a man’s 
misery to snoop into every detail of his private life. In spite of uplift- 
ing editorials in A-town Tribune telling them how grateful they 
ought to be, the recipients of the relief refused to learn any moral 
lessons, declaring that they were “just as good as anybody else.” 
When, for example, they permitted themselves the rare luxury of 
a movie or an evening of bingo, their neighbors looked at them 
sourly as if to say, “I work hard and pay my taxes just in order to 
support loafers like you in idleness and pleasure.” This attitude, 
which was fairly characteristic of those members of the community 
who still had jobs, further embittered the relief recipients, so that 
they showed even less gratitude as time went on and were con- 
stantly on the lookout for insults, real or imaginary, from people 
who might think that they weren’t as good as anybody else.* A num- 
ber of them took to moping all day long, to thinking that their 
lives had been failures; one or two even committed suicide. Others 
found that it was hard to look their wives and kiddies in the face, 
because they had failed to provide. They all found it difficult to 
maintain their club and fraternal relationships, since they could 
not help feeling that their fellow citizens despised them for having 
sunk so low. Their wives, too, were unhappy for the same reasons 



A SEMANTIC PARABLE 


3 

and gave up their social activities. Children whose parents were on 
relief felt inferior to classmates whose parents were not public 
charges. Some of these children developed inferiority complexes 
which affected not only their grades at school, but their careers after 
graduation. Several other relief recipients, finally, felt they could 
stand their loss of self-respect no longer and decided, after many 
efforts to gain honest jobs, to earn money by their own efforts, 
even if they had to go in for robbery. They did so and were caught 
and sent to the state penitentiary. 

The depression, therefore, hit A-town very hard. The relief policy 
had averted starvation, no doubt, but suicide, personal quarrels, un- 
happy homes, the weakening of social organizations, the maladjust- 
ment of children, and, finally, crime, had resulted. The town was 
divided in two, the “haves” and the “have-nots,” so that there was 
class hatred. People shook their heads sadly and declared that it all 
went to prove over again what they had known from the beginning, 
that giving people something for nothing inevitably demoralizes 
their character. The citizens of A-town gloomily waited for prosper- 
ity to return, with less and less hope as time went on. 

The story of the other community, B-ville, was entirely different. 
B-ville was a relatively isolated town, too far out of the way to be 
reached by Rotary Club speakers and university extension services. 
One of the aldermen, however, who was something of an economist, 
explained to his fellow aldermen that unemployment, like sickness, 
accident, fire, tornado, or death, hits unexpectedly in modern society, 
irrespective of the victim’s merits or deserts. He went on to say that 
B-ville’s homes, parks, streets, industries, and everything else B-ville 
was proud of had been built in part by the work of these same 
people who were now unemployed. He then proposed to apply a 
principle of insurance: If the work these unemployed people had 
previously done for the community could be regarded as a form of 
premium paid to the community against a time of misfortune, pay- 
ments now made to them to prevent their starvation could be re- 
garded as insurance claims. He therefore proposed that all men of 
good repute who had worked in the community in whatever line 
of useful endeavor, whether as machinists, clerks, or bank managers, 
be regarded as citizen policyholders, having claims against the city 



A SEMANTIC PARABLE 


4 

in the case of unemployment for fifty dollars a month until such 
time as they might again be employed. Naturally, he had to talk 
very slowly and patiently, since the idea was entirely new to his 
fellow aldermen. But he described his plan as a “straight business 
proposition,” and finally they were persuaded. They worked out 
the details as to the conditions under which citizens should be re- 
garded as policyholders in the city’s social insurance plan to every- 
body’s satisfaction and decided to give checks for fifty dollars a 
month to the heads of each of B-ville’s indigent families. 

B-ville’s claim adjusters, whose duty it was to investigate the 
claims of the citizen policyholders, had a much better time than 
A-town’s relief investigators. While the latter had been resentfully 
regarded as snoopers, the former, having no moral lesson to teach 
but simply a business transaction to carry out, treated their clients 
with businesslike courtesy and got the same amount of information 
as the relief investigators with considerably less difficulty. There 
were no hard feelings. It further happened, fortunately, that news 
of B-ville’s plans reached a liberal newspaper editor in the big city 
at the other end of the state. This writer described the plan in a 
leading feature story headed “B-VILLE LOOKS AHEAD. Great 
Adventure in Social Pioneering Launched by Upper Valley Com- 
munity.” As a result of this publicity, inquiries about the plan began 
to come to the city hall even before the first checks were mailed out. 
This led, naturally, to a considerable feeling of pride on the part of 
the aldermen, who, being boosters, felt that this was a wonderful op- 
portunity to put B-ville on the map. 

Accordingly, the aldermen decided that instead of simply mailing 
out the checks as they had originally intended, they would publicly 
present the first checks at a monster civic ceremony. They invited 
the governor of the state, who was glad to come to bolster J>is none- 
too-enthusiastic support in that locality, the president of the state 
university, the senator from their district, and other functionaries. 
They decorated the National Guard armory with flags and got out 
the American Legion Fife and Drum Corps, the Boy Scouts, and 
other civic organizations. At the big celebration, each family to re- 
ceive a social insurance check was marched up to the platform to 
receive it, and the governor and the mayor shook hands with each 



A SEMANTIC PARABLE 5 

of them as they came trooping up in their best clothes. Fine speeches 
were made; there was much cheering and shouting; pictures of the 
event showing the recipients of the checks shaking hands with the 
mayor, and the governor patting the heads of the children, were 
published not only in the local papers but also in several metro- 
politan picture sections. 

Every recipient of these insurance checks had a feeling, therefore, 
that he had been personally honored, that he lived in a wonderful 
little town, and that he could face his unemployment with greater 
courage and assurance, since his community was back of him. The 
men and women found themselves being kidded in a friendly way 
by their acquaintances for having been “up there with the big 
shots,” shaking hands with the governor, and so on. The children 
at school found themselves envied for having had their pictures in 
the papers. All in all, B-ville’s unemployed did not commit suicide, 
were not haunted by a sense of failure, did not turn to crime, did 
not get personal maladjustments, did not develop class hatred, as 
the result of their fifty dollars a month. . . . 

At the conclusion of the Professor’s story, the discussion began: 

“That just goes to show,” said the Advertising Man, who was 
known among his friends as a realistic thinker, “what good promo- 
tional work can do. B-ville’s city council had real advertising sense, 
and that civic ceremony was a masterpiece . . . made everyone 
happy . . . put over the scheme in a big way. Reminds me of the 
way we do things in our business: as soon as we called horse- 
mackerel tuna-fish, we developed a big market for it. I suppose if 
you called relief ‘insurance,’ you could actually get people to like 
it, couldn’t you?” 

“WJiat do you mean, ‘calling’ it insurance?” asked the Social 
Worker. “B-ville’s scheme wasn’t relief at all. It was insurance. 
That’s what all such payments should be. What gets me is the 
stupidity of A-town’s city council and all people like them in not 
realizing that what they call ‘relief’ is simply the payment of just 
claims which those unemployed have on a community in a complex 
interdependent industrial society.” 

“Good grief, man! Do you realize what you’re saying?” cried the 



6 


A SEMANTIC PARABLE 


Advertising Man in surprise. “Are you implying that those people 
had any right to that money ? All I said was that it’s a good idea to 
disguise relief as insurance if it’s going to make people any happier. 
But it’s still relief, no matter what you call it. It’s all right to kid 
the public along to reduce discontent, but we don’t need to kid 
ourselves as well!” 

“But they do have a right to that money! They’re not getting 
something for nothing. It’s insurance. They did something for the 
community, and that’s their prem — ” 

“Say, are you crazy?” 

“Who’s crazy?” 

“You’re crazy. Relief is relief, isn’t it? If you’d only call things 
by their right names . . 

“But, confound it, insurance is insurance, isn’t it?” 

(Since the gentlemen are obviously losing their tempers, it will be 
best to leave them. The Professor has already sneaked out. When 
last heard of, not only had the quarrelers stopped speaking to each 
other, but so had their wives — and the Advertising Man was threat- 
ening to disinherit his son if he didn’t break off his engagement 
with the Social Worker’s daughter.) 

This story has been told not to advance arguments in favor of 
“social insurance” or “relief” or for any other political and economic 
arrangement, but simply to show a fairly characteristic sample of 
language in action. Do the words we use make as much difference 
in our lives as the story of A-town and B-ville seems to indicate? 
We often talk about “choosing the right words to express our 
thoughts,” as if thinking were a process entirely independent of the 
words we think in. But is thinking such an independent process? 
Do the words we utter arise as a result of the thoughts we l^tve, or 
are the thoughts we have determined by the linguistic systems we 
happen to have been taught? The Advertising Man and the Social 
Worker seem to be agreed that the results of B-ville’s program were 
good, so that we can assume that their notions of what is socially 
desirable are similar. Nevertheless, they cannot agree . 

Alfred Korzybski, in his preface to Science and Sanity (which 
discusses many problems similar to those discussed in this book). 



A SEMANTIC PARABLE 


7 

asks the reader to imagine what the state of technology would be if 
all lubricants contained emery dust, the presence of which had 
never been detected. Machines would be short-lived and expensive; 
the machine age would be a dream of the distant future. If, how- 
ever, someone were to discover the presence of the emery, we should 
at once know in what direction to proceed in order to release the 
potentialities of machine power. 

Why do people disagree? It isn’t a matter of education or in- 
telligence, because quarreling, bitterness, conflict, and breakdown 
are just as common among the educated as the uneducated, among 
the clever as the stupid. Human relations are no better among the 
privileged than the underprivileged. Indeed, well-educated people 
are often the cleverest in proving that insurance is really insurance 
and that relief is really relief — and being well educated they often 
have such high principles that nothing will make them modify their 
position in the slightest. Are disagreements then the inevitable re- 
sults of the nature of human problems and the nature of man? Pos- 
sibly so — but if we give this answer, we are confessing to being 
licked before we have even started our investigations. 

The student of language observes, however, that it is an extremely 
rare quarrel that does not involve some kind of talking . Almost 
invariably, before noses are punched or shooting begins, words are 
exchanged — sometimes only a few, sometimes millions. We shall, 
therefore, look for the “previously undetected emery dust” (or 
whatever it is that heats up and stops our intellectual machinery) 
in language — that is to say, our linguistic habits (how we talk and 
think and listen) and our unconscious attitudes toward language . 
If we are even partially successful in our search, we may get an 
inkling of the direction in which to proceed in order to release the 
now imperfectly realized potentialities of human co-operation. 

P.S. Those who have concluded that the point of the story is that 
the Social Worker and the Advertising Man were “only arguing 
about different names for the same thing,” are asked to reread the 
story and explain what they mean by (i) “only” and (2) “the same 
thing.” 




1. Language and Survival 


One cannot but wonder at this constantly recurring phrase 
“getting something for nothing /' as if it were the peculiar and 
perverse ambition of disturbers of society . Except for our animal 
outfit , practically all we have is handed to us gratis . Can the 
most complacent reactionary flatter himself that he invented the 
art of writing or the printing press, or discovered his religious, 
economic, and moral convictions, or any of the devices which 
supply him with meat and raiment or any of the sources of such 
pleasure as he may derive from literature or the fine arts? In 
short, civilization is little else than getting something for nothing. 

JAMES HARVEY ROBINSON 

Whenever agreement or assent is arrived at in human affairs 
. . . this agreement is reached by linguistic processes, or else it 
is not reached . benjamin lee whorf 


What Animals Shall We Imitate? 

People in our culture who like to think of themselves as tough- 
minded and realistic, including influential political leaders and 
businessmen as well as go-getters and husders of smaller caliber, 
tend to take it for granted that human nature is “selfish” and that 
life is & struggle in which only the fittest may survive. According 
to this philosophy, the basic law by which man must live, in spite 
of his surface veneer of civilization, is the law of the jungle. The 
“fittest” are those who can bring to the struggle superior force, 
superior cunning, and superior ruthlessness. 

The wide currency of this philosophy of the “survival of the 
fittest” enables people who act ruthlessly and selfishly, whether in 
personal rivalries, business competition, or international relations, 
to allay their consciences by telling themselves that they are only 



12 


LANGUAGE AND SURVIVAL 


obeying a “law of nature.” But a disinterested observer is entitled 
to ask whether the ruthlessness of the tiger, the cunning of the ape, 
and obedience to the “law of the jungle” are actually evidences of 
human fitness to survive. If human beings are to pick up pointers 
on behavior from the lower animals, are there not animals other 
than beasts of prey from which we might learn lessons in survival ? 

We might, for example, point to the rabbit or the deer and define 
fitness to survive as superior rapidity in running away from our 
enemies. We might point to the earthworm or the mole and define 
it as the ability to keep out of sight and out of the way. We might 
point to the oyster or the housefly and define it as the ability to 
propagate our kind faster than our enemies can eat us up. If we 
are looking to animals for models of behavior, there is also the pig, 
an animal which many human beings have tried to emulate since 
time immemorial. (It will be remembered that in the Odyssey Circe 
gave ingenious and practical encouragement to those who had in- 
clinations in this direction.) In Aldous Huxley’s Brave New World , 
we are given a picture of a world such as would be designed for us 
by those who would model human beings after the social ants. The 
world, under the management of a super-brain-trust, might be made 
as well-integrated, smooth, and efficient as an ant colony, and as 
Huxley shows, just about as meaningless. If we simply look to 
animals in order to define what we mean by “fitness to survive,” 
there is no limit to the subhuman systems of behavior that can be 
devised : we may emulate lobsters, dogs, sparrows, parakeets, giraffes, 
skunks, or the parasitical worms, because they have all obviously 
survived in one way or another. We are still entitled to ask, how- 
ever, if human survival does not revolve around a different kind 
of fitness from that exhibited by the lower animals. 

Because of the wide prevalence of the dog-eat-dog “survival of 
the fittest” philosophy in our world (although the atomic bomb 
has awakened some people to the need for a change in philosophy), 
it is worth while to look into the present scientific standing of the 
phrase “survival of the fittest.” Biologists today distinguish between 
two kinds of “struggle for survival.” First, there is the interspecific 
struggle of- different species of animals with each other, such as 
between wolves and deer, or between men and bacteria. Second, 
there is the intraspecific struggle among members of a single species, 



*3 


WHAT ANIMALS SHALL WE IMITATE? 

as when rats fight other rats, or men fight other men. There is a 
great deal of evidence in modern biology to show that those species 
which have developed elaborate means of intraspecific competition 
often unfit themselves for interspecific competition, so that such 
species are either already extinct or are threatened with extinction 
at any time. The peacock’s tail, although useful in sexual competi- 
tion against other peacocks, is only a hindrance in coping with the 
environment or competing against other species. The peacock could 
therefore be wiped out overnight by a sudden change in ecological 
balance. There is evidence, too, that strength and fierceness in fight- 
ing and killing other animals, whether in interspecific or intra- 
specific competition, have never been enough of themselves to 
guarantee the survival of a species. Many a mammoth reptile, 
equipped with magnificent offensive and defensive armaments, 
ceased to walk the earth millions of years ago. If we are going to 
talk about human survival, one of the first things to do, even if we 
grant that man must fight to live, is to distinguish between those 
qualities that are useful to men in fighting the environment and 
other species (for example, floods, weather, wild animals, bacteria, 
or grasshoppers) and those qualities (such as aggressiveness) that 
are useful in fighting other men. 

The principle that if we don’t hang together we shall all hang 
separately was discovered by nature long before it was put into 
words by man. Co-operation within a species (and sometimes with 
other species) is essential to the survival of most living creatures. 
Man, moreover, is the talking animal — and any theory of human 
survival that leaves this fact out of account is no more scientific 
than would be a theory of beaver survival that failed to consider 
the interesting uses a beaver makes of its teeth and flat tail. Let us 
see what talking — human communication — means. 


Co-operation. 

When someone shouts at you, “look out!” and you jump just in 
time to avoid being hit by an automobile, you owe your escape from 
injury to the fundamental co-operative act by which most of the 



14 LANGUAGE AND SURVIVAL 

higher animals survive, namely, communication by means of noises. 
You did not see the car coming; nevertheless, someone did see it, 
and he made certain noises to cornmunicate his alarm to you. In 
other words, although your nervous system did not record the 
danger, you were unharmed because another nervous system did 
record it. You had, for the time being, the advantage of someone 
else’s nervous system in addition to your own. 

Indeed, most of the time when we are listening to the noises 
people make or looking at the black marks on paper that stand for 
such noises, we are drawing upon the experiences of others in order 
to make up what we ourselves have missed. Now obviously the 
more an individual can make use of the nervous systems of others 
to supplement his own, the easier it is for him to survive. And, of 
course, the more individuals there are in a group accustomed to 
Cooperating by making helpful noises at each other, the better it is 
for all — within the limits, naturally, of the group’s talents for social 
organization. Birds and animals congregate with their own kind 
and make noises when they find food or become alarmed. In fact, 
gregariousness as an aid to self-defense and survival is forced upon 
animals as well as upon men by the necessity of uniting nervous 
systems even more than by the necessity of uniting physical strength. 
Societies, both animal and human, might almost be regarded as 
huge co-operative nervous systems. 

While animals use only a few limited cries, however, human 
beings use extremely complicated systems of sputtering, hissing, 
gurgling, clucking, cooing noises called language , with which they 
express and report what goes on in their nervous systems. Language 
is, in addition to being more complicated, immeasurably more 
flexible than the animal cries from which it was developed — so 
flexible indeed that it can be used not only to report the treraendous 
variety of things that go on in the human nervous system, but to 
report those reports . That is, when an animal yelps, he may cause 
a second animal to yelp in imitation or alarm, but the second yelp 
is not about the first yelp. But when a man says, “I see a river,” a 
second man can say, “He says he sees a river” — which is a statement 
about a statement. About this statement-about-a-statement further 
statements can be made — and about these, still more. Language , in 



CO-OPERATION 


15 

short, can be about language . This is a fundamental way in which 
human noise-making systems differ from the cries of animals. 


The Pooling of Knowledge 

In addition to having developed language, man has also developed 
means of making, on clay tablets, bits of wood or stone, skins of 
animals, and paper, more or less permanent marks and scratches 
which stand for language. These marks enable him to communicate 
with people who are beyond the reach of his voice, both in space 
and in time. There is a long course of evolution from the marked 
trees that indicated Indian trails to the metropolitan daily news- 
paper, but they have this in common: They pass on what one in- 
dividual has known to other individuals, for their convenience or, 
in the broadest sense, instruction. The Indians are dead, but many 
of their trails are still marked and can be followed to this day. 
Archimedes is dead, but we still have his reports on what he ob- 
served in his experiments in physics. Keats is dead, but he can still 
tell us how he felt on first reading Chapman’s Homer. From our 
newspapers and radios we learn with great rapidity facts about the 
world we live in. From books and magazines we learn how hun- 
dreds of people whom we shall never be able to see have felt and 
thought. All this information is useful to us at one time or another 
in the solution of our own problems. 

A human being, then, is never dependent on his own experience 
alone for his information. Even in a primitive culture he can make 
use of the experience of his neighbors, friends, and relatives, which 
they communicate to him by means of language. Therefore, instead 
of remaining helpless because of the limitations of his own experi- 
ence and knowledge, instead of having to discover what others 
have already discovered, instead of exploring the false trails they 
explored and repeating their errors, he can go on from where they 
left off. Language, that is to say, makes progress possible. 

Indeed, most of what we call the human characteristics of our 
species are expressed and developed through our ability to co-operate 
by means of our systems of making meaningful noises and mean- 



l6 LANGUAGE AND SURVIVAL 

ingful scratches on paper. Even people who belong to backward 
cultures in which writing has not been invented are able to ex- 
change information and to hand down from generation to genera- 
tion considerable stores of traditional knowledge. There seems, 
however, to be a limit both to the trustworthiness and to the amount 
of knowledge that can be transmitted orally. But when writing is 
invented, a tremendous step forward is taken. The accuracy of re- 
ports can be checked and rechecked by successive generations of 
observers. The amount of knowledge accumulated ceases to be 
limited by people’s ability to remember what has been told them. 
The result is that in any literate culture of a few centuries’ standing, 
human beings accumulate vast stores of knowledge — far more than 
any individual in that culture can read in his lifetime, let alone 
remember. These stores of knowledge, which are being added to 
constantly, are made widely available to all who want them through 
such mechanical processes as printing and through such distributive 
agencies as the book trade, the newspaper and magazine trade, and 
library systems. The result is that all of us who can read any of the 
major European or Asiatic languages are potentially in touch with 
the intellectual resources of centuries of human endeavor in all 
parts of the civilized world. 

A physician, for example, who does not know how to treat a 
patient suffering from a rare disease can look up the disease in the 
Index Medicus, which will send him in turn to medical journals 
published in all parts of the world. In these he may find records of 
similar cases as reported and described by a physician in Rotterdam, 
Holland, in 1873, by another physician in Bangkok, Siam, in 1909, 
and by still other physicians in Kansas City in 1924. With such 
records before him, he can better handle his own case. Again, if a 
person is worried about ethics, he is not limited to the advdce of 
the pastor of the Elm Street Baptist Church; he may go to Con- 
fucius, Aristotle, Jesus, Spinoza, and many others whose reflections 
on ethical problems are on record. If one is worried about love, he 
can get advice not only from his mother or best friend, but from 
Sappho, Ovid, Propertius, Shakespeare, Havelock Ellis, or any of a 
thousand others who knew something about it and wrote down 
what they knew. 



THE POOLING OF KNOWLEDGE 


*7 

Language, that is to say, is the indispensable mechanism of human 
life — of life such as ours that is molded, guided, enriched, and made 
possible by the accumulation of the past experience of members of 
our own species. Dogs and cats and chimpanzees do not, so far as 
we can tell, increase their wisdom, their information, or their control 
over their environment from one generation to the next. But human 
beings do. The cultural accomplishments of the ages, the invention 
of cooking, of weapons, of writing, of printing, of methods of 
building, of games and amusements, of means of transportation, 
and the discoveries of all the arts and sciences come to us as free 
gifts from the dead . These gifts, which none of us has done any- 
thing to earn, offer us not only the opportunity for a richer life 
than our forebears enjoyed, but also the opportunity to add to the 
sum total of human achievement by our own contributions, however 
small. 

To be able to read and write, therefore, is to learn to profit by 
and take pail in the greatest of human achievements — that which 
makes all other achievements possible — namely, the pooling of our 
experiences in great co-operative stores of knowledge, available (ex- 
cept where special privilege, censorship, or suppression stand in the 
way) to all. From the warning cry of primitive man to the latest 
scientific monograph or radio newsflash, language is social. Cultural 
and intellectual co-operation is the great principle of human life. 

This is by no means an easy principle to accept or to understand — 
except as a kind of pious truism that we should like, because we 
are well-meaning people, to believe. We live in a highly competi- 
tive society, each of us trying to outdo the other in wealth, in popu- 
larity or social prestige, in dress, in scholastic grades or golf scores. 
As we $c ad our daily papers, there is always news of conflict rather 
than of co-operation — conflict between labor and management, be- 
tween rival corporations or movie stars, between rival political 
parties and nations. Over us all hangs the perpetual fear of an- 
other war even more unthinkably horrible than the last. One is 
often tempted to say that conflict, rather than co-operation, is the 
great governing principle of human life. 

But what such a philosophy overlooks is that, despite all the com- 
petition at the surface, there is a huge substratum of co-operation 



1 8 LANGUAGE AND SURVIVAL 

ta\en for granted that keeps the world going. The co-ordination 
of the efforts of engineers, actors, musicians, utilities companies, 
typists, program directors, advertising agencies, writers, and hun- 
dreds of others is required to put on a single radio program. Hun- 
dreds of thousands of persons co-operate in the production of motor 
cars, including suppliers and shippers of raw materials from dif- 
ferent parts of the earth. Any organized business activity whatsoever 
is an elaborate act of co-operation, in which every individual worker 
contributes his share. A lockout or a strike is a withdrawal of co- 
operation — things are regarded as “back to normal” when co-opera- 
tion is restored. We may indeed as individuals compete for jobs, 
but our function in the job, once we get it, is to contribute at the 
right time and place to that innumerable series of co-operative acts 
that eventually result in automobiles being manufactured, in cakes 
appearing in pastry shops, in department stores being able to serve 
their customers, in the trains and airlines running as scheduled. 
And what is important for our purposes here is that all this co- 
ordination of effort necessary for the functioning of society is of 
necessity achieved by language or else it is not achieved at all. 


The Niagara of Words 

And how does all this affect Mr. T. C. Mits ? 1 From the moment 
he switches on an early morning news broadcast until he falls asleep 
at night over a novel or a magazine, he is, like all other people 
living in modern civilized conditions, swimming in words. News- 
paper editors, politicians, salesmen, radio comedians, columnists, 
luncheon club speakers, and clergymen; colleagues at work, friends, 
relatives, wife and children; market reports, direct mail advertising, 
books, and billboards — all are assailing him with words all day 
long. And Mr. Mits himself is constantly contributing to that verbal 
Niagara every time he puts on an advertising campaign, delivers a 
speech, writes a letter, or even chats with his friends. 

1 Lillian and Hugh Lieber, of Long Island University, are responsible for christen- 
ing this gentleman. The Celebrated Man In The Street. Mits* wife’s name is, of 
course. Wits. See The Education of T. C. Mits and Mits, Wits, and Logic. 



THE NIAGARA OF WORDS Ip 

When things go wrong in Mr. Mits’ life — when he is worried, 
perplexed, or nervous, when family, business, or national affairs are 
not going as he thinks they should, when he finds himself making 
blunder after blunder in personal or financial matters — he blames 
a number of things as responsible for his difficulties. Sometimes he 
blames the weather, sometimes his health or the state of his nerves, 
sometimes his glands, or, if the problem is a larger one, he may 
blame his environment, the economic system he lives under, a 
foreign nation, or the cultural pattern of his society. When he is 
pondering the difficulties of other people, he may attribute their 
troubles too to causes such as these, and he may add still another, 
namely, “human nature.” (He doesn’t blame his own “human 
nature” unless he is in a very bad way indeed.) It rarely, if ever, 
occurs to him to investigate, among other things, the nature and 
constituents of that daily verbal Niagara as a possible source of 
trouble. 

Indeed, there are few occasions on which Mr. Mits thinks about 
language as such. He wonders from time to time about a gram- 
matical point. Sometimes he feels an uneasiness about his own 
verbal accomplishments, so that he begins to wonder if he shouldn’t 
take steps to “improve his vocabulary.” Once in a while he is struck 
by the fact that some people (although he never includes himself 
among these) “twist the meanings of words,” especially during the 
course of arguments, so that words are often “very tricky.” Occasion- 
ally, too, he notices, usually with irritation, that words sometimes 
“mean different things to different people.” This condition, he feels, 
would be cured if people would only consult their dictionaries 
oftener and learn the “true meanings” of words. He knows, how- 
ever, that they will not — at least, not any oftener than he does, which 
is not ve^y often — so that he puts this down as another instance of 
the weakness of human nature. 

This, unfortunately, is about the limit of Mr. Mits’ linguistic 
speculations. But in this respect Mr. Mits is representative not only 
of the general public, but also of many scientific workers, publicists, 
and writers. Like most people, he takes words as much for granted 
as the air he breathes, and gives them about as much thought. (After 
all, he has been talking ever since he can remember.) Mr. Mits* 



20 LANGUAGE AND SURVIVAL 

body automatically adjusts itself, within certain limits, to changes 
in climate or atmosphere, from cold to warm, from dry to moist, 
from fresh to foul; no conscious effort on his part is required to 
make these adjustments. Nevertheless, he is ready to acknowledge 
the effect that climate and air have upon his physical well-being, 
and he takes measures to protect himself from unhealthy air, either 
by getting away from it, or by installing air-conditioning systems 
to purify it. But Mr. Mits, like the rest of us, also adjusts himself 
automatically to changes in the verbal climate, from one type of 
discourse to another, from one set of terms to another, from the 
listening habits of one kind of social occasion to those of another 
kind of social occasion, without conscious effort. He has yet, how- 
ever, to acknowledge the effect of his verbal climate on his mental 
health and well-being. 

Nevertheless, Mr. Mits is profoundly involved in the words he 
absorbs daily and in the words he uses daily. Words in the news- 
paper make him pound his fist on the breakfast table. Words his 
superiors speak to him puff him out with pride, or send him scurry- 
ing to work harder. Words about himself, which he has overheard 
being spoken behind his back, worry him sick. Words which he 
spoke before a clergyman some years ago have tied him to one 
woman for life. Words written down on pieces of paper keep him 
at his job, or bring bills in his mail every month which keep him 
paying and paying. Words written down by other people, on the 
other hand, keep them paying him month after month. With words 
woven into almost every detail of his life, it seems amazing that 
Mr. Mits’ thinking on the subject of language should be so limited. 

Mr. Mits has also noticed that when large masses of people, for 
example under totalitarian regimes, are permitted by their govern- 
ments to hear and read only carefully selected words, thejr conduct 
becomes so strange that he can only regard it as mad. Yet he has 
observed that some individuals who have the same educational 
attainments and the same access to varied sources of information 
that he has, are nevertheless just as mad. He listens to the views 
of some of his neighbors and he cannot help wondering, “How can 
they think such things? Don’t they see the same things happening 
that I see? They must be crazy!” Does such madness, he asks, 



THE NIAGARA OF WORDS 21 

illustrate again the “inevitable frailty ot human nature”? Mr. Mits, 
who, as an American, likes to regard all things as possible, does 
not like the conclusion that “nothing can be done about it,” but 
often he can hardly see how he can escape it. Occasionally, timidly, 
Mr. Mits approaches one more possibility, “Maybe I’m crazy my- 
self. Maybe were all nuts!” Such a conclusion leads to so complete 
an impasse, however, that he quickly drops the notion. 

One reason for Mr. Mits’ failure to get any further in his thinking 
about language is that he believes, as most people do, that words 
are not really important; what is important is the “ideas” they stand 
for. But what is an “idea” if it is not the verbalization of a cerebral 
itch? This, however, is something that has rarely, if ever, occurred 
to Mr. Mits. The fact that the implications of one set of terms may 
lead inevitably into blind alleys while the implications of another 
set of terms may not; the fact that the historical or sentimental 
associations that some words have make calm discussion impossible 
so long as those words are employed; the fact that language has a 
multitude of different kinds of uses, and that great confusion arises 
from mistaking one kind of use for another; the fact that a person 
speaking a language of a structure entirely different from that of 
English, such as Japanese, Chinese, or Turkish, may not even think 
the same thoughts as an English-speaking person — these are un- 
familiar notions to Mr. Mits, who has always assumed that the im- 
portant thing is always to get one’s “ideas” straight first, after which 
the words would take care of themselves. 

Whether he realizes it or not, however, Mr. Mits is affected every 
hour of his life not only by the words he hears and uses, but also 
by his unconscious assumptions about language. If, for example, he 
likes the name “Albert” and would like to christen his child by that 
name but superstitiously avoids doing so because he once knew an 
“Albert” who committed suicide, he is operating, whether he real- 
izes it or not, under certain assumptions about the relationship of 
language to reality. Such unconscious assumptions determine the 
effect that words have on him — which in turn determines the way 
he acts, whether wisely or foolishly. Words— the way he uses them 
and the way he takes them when spoken by others — largely shape 
his beliefs, his prejudices, his ideals, his aspirations. They constitute 



22 


LANGUAGE AND SURVIVAL 


the moral and intellectual atmosphere in which he lives— in short, 
his semantic environment . 

This book is devoted, then, to the study of the relationships be- 
tween language, thought, and behavior. We shall examine language 
and people’s linguistic habits as they reveal themselves in thinking 
(at least nine-tenths of which is talking to oneself), speaking, listen- 
ing, reading, and writing. It will be the basic assumption of this 
book that widespread intraspecific co-operation through the use of 
language is the fundamental mechanism of human survivals A 
parallel assumption will be that when the use of language results, 
as it so often does, in the creation or aggravation of disagreements 
and conflicts, there is something wrong with the speaker, the listener, 
or both. Human “fitness to survive” means the ability to talk and 
write and listen and read in ways that increase the chances for you 
and fellow-members of your species to survive together. 


Applications 

Since one of the purposes of this book is to help the reader under- 
stand more clearly how language works and how this understanding 
can be applied to the practical situations of life, the reader will find at 
the end of each chapter a section entitled “Applications.” Some of these 
are designed to enable the reader to test how clearly he has understood 
what the author is saying in the chapter; others suggest operations or 
activities by which the reader can experimentally test out some of the 
ideas set forth. 

In those Applications where the reader is invited to analyze examples 
of language in action, it should be emphasized that there is seldom one — 
and only one — “right answer.” The point is, rather, to become con- 
scious of what is going on: what silent assumptions of the speaker or 
writer and of the listener or reader appear to be involved in a given 
example. 

If the reader discusses his analyses or experiments with others who 
are reading this book, he should try to avoid hair splitting and verbal 
free-for-alls. It is well to be able to give a clear account of one’s reasons 
for reaching a certain result, but one can learn a great deal by listening 
carefully- to what others did and what their reasons are for their con- 
clusions. 

The ideas in this book will be helpful in proportion as the reader 



APPLICATIONS 


23 

puts them to the test of actual experience and decides for himself how 
valid and useful they are for his own thinking and living. The Ap- 
plications throughout the book are simply starters in this direction, but 
it is important that what is read here be put to the test of experience. 

We all tend to assume that what we have read without too much 
difficulty we have understood. This assumption is not, of course, always 
justified. The reader may find it interesting to check his own interpreta- 
tive processes (and perhaps also the clarity of the writer’s exposition) 
by going over the following list and indicating which statements agree 
with, which statements disagree with , and which statements have no 
relation to what has been said in this chapter. 

1. Human beings should study the entire animal kingdom in order 
to find out which animals are most worth imitating. 

2. Heathens believe in the law of the jungle; Christians do not. 

3. The Battle of the Bulge is an example of intraspecific struggle. 

4. Cockroach powder and DDT are weapons of interspecific struggle. 

5. Intraspecific .struggle must be replaced by co-operation if man is 
to survive as a species. 

6. So far as we can observe, animals do not increase their store of 
knowledge from one generation to the next. 

7. If you fall in love, you should read a good book. 

8. Through language man is able to profit by the experience of the 
dead as well as the living members of his species. 

9. There ought to be laws prohibiting strikes and lockouts. 

10. Cultural and intellectual co-operation is the great principle of 
human life. 

11. However, there is little prospect that human nature can be so 
altered as to make co-operation possible on a wide scale. 

12. Because we are over-deluged with words, everybody should keep 
his mouth shut. 

13. Man has little or no way of controlling his semantic environment. 

14. Becafise language is so important people have got to learn to think 
more logically if they want to solve their problems. 

15. Because language is so important, learning the correct definitions 
of words is basic to human survival. 

16. Language, thought, and behavior are intimately related to each 
other. 

17- When a discussion leads to increasing and deeper disagreement, 
there is something wrong with the language habits of one or more of 
the persons involved. 



2 


Symbols 


This basic need , which certainly is obvious only in man , is the 
need of symbolization . The symbol-making function is one of 
mans primary activities, li\e eating, looking, or moving about. 
It is the fundamental process of the mind, and goes on all the 
time. susanne k. langer 

Mans achievements rest upon the use of symbols. 

ALFRED KORZYBSKI 


The Symbolic Process 

Animals struggle with each other for food or for leadership, but 
they do not, like human beings, struggle with each other for things 
that stand for food or leadership: such things as our paper symbols 
of wealth (money, bonds, titles), badges of rank to wear on our 
clothes, or low-number license plates, supposed by some people 
to stand for social precedence. For animals, the relationship in 
which one thing stands for something else does not appear to exist 
except in very rudimentary form . 1 

1 One investigator, J. B. Wolfe, trained chimpanzees to put poker chips into an 
especially constructed vending machine (“chimpomat”) which supplied grapes, 
bananas, and other food. The chimpanzees proved to be able to distinguish chips 
of different “values” (i grape, 2 grapes, zero, and so on) and also proved to be 
willing to work for them if the rewards were fairly immediate. They tended, how- 
ever, not to work as they accumulated more chips. Their “money system” was 
definitely limited to rudimentary and immediate transactions. See Robert M. Yerkes* 
Chimpanzees: A Laboratory Colony (Yale University Press, 1943). 

Other examples of animals successfully learning to react meaningfully to things- 
that-stand-for-other-things can readily be offered, but as a general rule these animal 
reactions are extremely simple and limited when contrasted with human possi- 
bilities in this direction. For example, it appears likely that a chimpanzee might 
be taught to drive a simplified car, but there would be one thing wrong with its 
driving: its reactions are such that if a red light showed when it was half way 
across a street, it would stop in the middle of the crossing, while, if a green light 
showed when another car was stalled in its path, it would go ahead regardless of 
consequences. In other words, so far as such a chimpanzee would be concerned, 
the red light could hardly be said to stand for stop; it is stop. 



THE SYMBOLIC PROCESS 


25 

The process by means of which human beings can arbitrarily 
make certain things stand for other things may be called the sym- 
bolic process . Whenever two or more human beings can communi- 
cate with each other, they can, by agreement, make anything stand 
for anything. For example, here are two symbols: 

X Y 

We can agree to let X stand for buttons and Y stand for bows; 
then we can freely change our agreement and let X stand for the 
Chicago White Sox and Y for the Cincinnati Reds; or let X stand 
for Chaucer and Y for Shakespeare, X for the CIO and.Y for the 
AFL. We are , as human beings, uniquely free to manufacture and 
manipulate and assign values to our symbols as we please . Indeed, 
we can go further by making symbols that stand for symbols. If 
necessary we can, for instance, let the symbol M stand for all the 
X’s in the above example (buttons, White Sox, Chaucer, CIO) and 
let N stand for *all the Y’s (bows, Cincinnati Reds, Shakespeare, 
AFL). Then we can make another symbol, T, stand for M and N, 
which would be an instance of a symbol of symbols of symbols. This 
freedom to create symbols of any assigned value and to create 
symbols that stand for symbols is essential to what we call the 
symbolic process. 

Everywhere we turn, we see the symbolic process at work. Feathers 
worn on the head or stripes on the sleeve can be made to stand for 
military leadership; cowrie shells or rings of brass or pieces of paper 
can stand for wealth; crossed sticks can stand for a set of religious 
beliefs; buttons, elks’ teeth, ribbons, special styles of ornamental 
haircutting or tattooing, can stand for social affiliations. The sym- 
bolic process permeates human life at the most primitive as well 
as at the paost civilized levels. Warriors, medicine men, policemen, 
doormen, telegraph boys, cardinals, and kings wear costumes that 
symbolize their occupations. Savages collect scalps, college students 
collect membership keys in honorary societies, to symbolize victories 
in their respective fields. There are few things that men do or want 
to do, possess or want to possess, that have not, in addition to their 
mechanical or biological value, a symbolic value. 

All fashionable clothes, as Thorstein Veblen has pointed out in 



SYMBOLS 


26 

his Theory of the Leisure Class are highly symbolic: materials, cut, 
and ornament are dictated only to a slight degree by considerations 
of warmth, comfort, or practicability. The more we dress up in fine 
clothes, the more we restrict our freedom of action. But by means 
of delicate embroideries, easily soiled fabrics, starched shirts, high 
heels, long and pointed fingernails, and other such sacrifices of com- 
fort, the wealthy classes manage to symbolize, among other things, 
the fact that they don’t have to work for a living. The not-so- 
wealthy, on the other hand, by imitating these symbols of wealth, 
symbolize their conviction that, even if they do work for a living, 
they are just as good as anybody else. Again, we select our furniture 
to serve as visible symbols of our taste, wealth, and social position; 
we trade in perfectly good cars for later models, not always to get 
better transportation, but to give evidence to the community that 
we can afford such luxuries. We often choose our residences on the 
basis of a feeling that it “looks well” to have a “good address.” We 
like to put expensive food on our tables, not always because it tastes 
better than cheap food, but because it tells our guests that we wish 
to do them honor . 2 

Such complicated and apparently unnecessary behavior leads 
philosophers, both amateur and professional, to ask over and over 
again, “Why can’t human beings live simply and naturally?” Often 
the complexity of human life makes us look enviously at the rela- 
tive simplicity of lives such as clogs and cats lead. But the symbolic 
process, which makes possible the absurdities of human conduct, 
also makes possible language and therefore all the human achieve- 
ments dependent upon language. The fact that more things can go 
wrong with motorcars than with wheelbarrows is no reason for 
going back to wheelbarrows. Similarly, the fact that the symbolic 
process makes complicated follies possible is no reason for wanting 
to return to a cat-and-dog existence. A better solution is to under- 
stand the symbolic process so that instead of being its slaves we 
become, to some degree at least, its masters. 

2 The writer owns an eight-year-old car in good running condition. A friend of 
his, a repairman who knows the condition of the car, has been urging him to trade 
it in for a new model. “But why?” the writer asked. “The old car’s in fine shape 
still.” The repairman answered scornfully, “Yeah, but what the hell. All you’ve got 
is transportation.” The writer is beginning to weaken. 



LANGUAGE AS SYMBOLISM 


27 


Language as Symbolism 

Of all forms of symbolism, language is the most highly developed, 
most subtle, and most complicated. It has been pointed out that 
human beings, by agreement, can make anything stand for any- 
thing. Now, human beings have agreed, in the course of centuries 
of mutual dependency, to let the various noises that they can pro- 
duce with their lungs, throats, tongues, teeth, and lips systematically 
stand for specified happenings in their nervous systems. We call 
that system of agreements language . For example, we who speak 
English have been so trained that, when our nervous systems register 
the presence of a certain kind of animal, we may make the following 
noise: “There’s a cat.” Anyone hearing us expects to find that, by 
looking in the same direction, he will experience a similar event in 
his nervous system — one that will lead him to make an almost 
identical noise. Again, we have been so trained that when we are 
conscious of wanting food, we make the noise, “I’m hungry.” 

There is, as has been said, no necessary connection between the 
symbol and that which is symbolized . Just as men can wear yacht- 
ing costumes without ever having been near a yacht, so they can 
make the noise, “I’m hungry,” without being hungry. Furthermore, 
just as social rank can be symbolized by feathers in the hair, by 
tattooing on the breast, by gold ornaments on the watch chain, or 
by a thousand different devices according to the culture we live in, 
so the fact of being hungry can be symbolized by a thousand dif- 
ferent noises according to the culture we live in: “J’ai faim,” or “Es 
hungert mich,” or “Ho appetito,” or “Hara ga hetta,” and so on. 

However obvious these facts may appear at first glance, they are 
actually nflt so obvious as they seem except when we take special 
pains to think about the subject. Symbols and things symbolized 
are independent of each other; nevertheless, we all have a way of 
feeling as if, and sometimes acting as if, there were necessary con- 
nections. For example, there is the vague sense we all have that 
foreign languages are inherently absurd: foreigners have such funny 
names for things, and why can’t they call things by their right 



SYMBOLS 


28 

names? This feeling exhibits itself most strongly in those English 
and American tourists who seem to believe that they can make 
the natives of any country understand English if they shout loud 
enough. Like the little boy who was reported to have said, “Pigs 
are called pigs because they are such dirty animals/' they feel that 
the symbol is inherently connected in some way with the things 
symbolized. Then there are the people who feel that since snakes 
are “nasty, slimy creatures” (incidentally, snakes are not slimy), 
the word “snake” is a nasty, slimy word . 


The Pitfalls of Drama 

Naivete regarding the symbolic process extends to symbols other 
than words, of course. In the case of drama (stage, movies, radio), 
there appear to be people in almost every audience who never quite 
fully realize that a play is a set of fictional, symbolic representations. 
An actor is one who symbolizes other people, real or imagined: 
Fredric March may, in a given play, enact the role of (symbolize) a 
drunkard. The fact that Mr. March can do so with extraordinary 
realism proves nothing about his drinking habits, if any. Never- 
theless, there are movie-goers who, instead of admiring Mr. March’s 
skill in acting, begin to feel sorry for Mrs. March who is, alas, 
married to such a heavy drinker! Lewis Stone, who often plays 
the part of a judge, often gets letters from fans asking for legal 
advice. James Cagney, who plays “tough guy” roles, is often chal- 
lenged to fight by men who say to him, “Think you’re tough, do 
you? Lemme show you!” It was said some years ago that when 
Edward G. Robinson, who plays gangster roles with extraordinary 
vividness, visited Chicago, local hoodlums telephoned ljim at his 
hotel to pay their professional respects. 

One is reminded of the story of the actor, playing the part of a 
villain in a traveling theatrical troupe, who, at a particularly tense 
moment in the play, was shot by an overexcited cowpuncher in 
the audience. The cowpuncher of this story, however, is no more 
ridiculous than those thousands of people today, many of them 
adults, who write fan letters to a ventriloquist’s dummy, or those 



THE PITFALLS OF DRAMA 


29 

goodhearted but impressionable people who send presents to the 
broadcasting station when two characters in a radio serial get mar- 
ried, or those astonishing patriots who rushed to recruiting offices 
to help defend the nation when, on October 30, 1938, the United 
States was “invaded” by an “army from Mars” in a radio dramatiza- 
tion. 3 

An extreme case of this kind is that of a woman who had a baby 
on the same day a fictitious baby was born to the heroine in her 
favorite soap-opera. She named her baby “Margaret” because the 
soap-opera “baby” was given that name. Some time later, the soap- 
opera “baby” “died.” Thereupon the woman went into a state of 
inconsolable grief, being convinced that her own baby was dead. 
When her friends tried to convince her that that was her own baby, 
alive and howling right there beside her, she would not be con- 
soled. “You can’t fool me,” she said. “Margaret is dead. I heard it 
on the radio.” The woman was, of course, placed in a mental hos- 
pital — this was probably only one of many such misevaluations she 
was in the habit of making. Whatever else was wrong with her, one 
way of describing this particular misevaluation is to say that the 
words (in this case of the soap-opera) not only possessed for her 
the characteristics of reality, but became a substitute reality com- 
pletely shutting out the facts . 


The Word Is Not The Thing 

The above, however, are only the more striking examples of 
confused attitudes toward words and symbols. There would be little 
point in mentioning them if we were uniformly and permanently 
aware o£the independence of symbols from things symbolized, as 
all human beings, in the writer’s opinion, can be and should be . 4 

8 See Hadley CantriPs ‘The Invasion from Mars (Princeton University Press, 1940); 
also John Houseman’s “The Men from Mars,” in Harper’s Magazine, December 194S. 

4 Much o£ the make-believe activity of small children, even as young as two 
years, appears to arise from the spontaneous and joyous discovery of the symbolic 
process, involving clear distinctions between symbols and things symbolized and a 
pleasure in the independence and manipulability of symbols. A great deal of the 
natural wisdom of children is, however, snuffed out in the course of their education. 



SYMBOLS 


3 ° 

But we are not. Most of us have, in some area or other of our think- 
ing, improper habits of evaluation. For this, society itself is often 
to blame: most societies systematically encourage, concerning cer- 
tain topics, the habitual confusion of symbols with things symbol- 
ized. For example, if a Japanese schoolhouse caught on fire, it used 
to be obligatory in the days of emperor-worship to try to rescue 
the emperor’s picture (there was one in every schoolhouse), even 
at the risk of one’s life. (If you got burned to death, you were 
posthumously ennobled.) In our society, we are encouraged to go 
into debt in order that we may display, as symbols of prosperity, 
shiny new automobiles. Strangely enough, the possession of shiny 
automobiles even under these conditions makes their “owners” feel 
prosperous. In all civilized societies (and probably in many primi- 
tive ones as well), the symbols of piety, of civic virtue, or of patriot- 
ism are often prized above actual piety, civic virtue, or patriotism. 
In one way or another, we are all like the brilliant student who 
cheats in his exams in order to make Phi Beta Kappa: it is so much 
more important to have the symbol than the things it stands for. 

The habitual confusion of symbols with things symbolized, 
whether on the part of individuals or societies, is serious enough at 
all levels of culture to provide a perennial human problem . 5 But 
with the rise of modern communications systems, there arises with 
peculiar urgency the problem of confusion of verbal symbols with 
realities. We are constantly being talked at, by teachers, preachers, 
salesmen, public relations counsels, governmental agencies, and 
moving-picture sound tracks. The cries of the hawkers of soft 
drinks, soap chips, and laxatives pursue us into our homes, thanks 
to the radio — and in some houses the radio is never turned off from 
morning to night. The mailman brings direct mail advertising. Bill- 
boards confront us on the highway, and we even take* portable 
radios with us to the seashore. 

We live in an environment shaped and largely created by hitherto 
unparalleled semantic influences: mass circulation newspapers and 
magazine s which are given to reflecting, in a shocking number of 

6 The charge against the Pharisees, it will be remembered, was that they were 
obsessively concerned with the symbols of piety at the expense of an adequate con- 
cern with its spirit. 



THE WORD IS NOT THE THING 


3 1 

cases, the weird prejudices and obsessions of their publishers and 
owners; radio programs, both local and network, almost completely 
dominated by commercial motives; public relations counsels, who 
are simply highly paid craftsmen in the art of manipulating and 
reshaping our semantic environment in ways favorable to their 
clients. It is an exciting environment, but fraught with danger: it 
is only a slight exaggeration to say that Hitler conquered Austria 
by radio. 

Citizens of a modern society need, therefore, more than ordinary 
“common sense'’ — which was recently defined by Stuart Chase as 
that which tells you that the world is flat. They need to-be scien- 
tifically aware of the powers and limitations of symbols, especially 
words, if they are to guard against being driven into complete be- 
wilderment by the complexity of their semantic environment. The 
first of the principles governing symbols is this: The symbol is not 
the thing symbolized; the word is not the thing; the map is not the 
territory it stands for. 


Maps and Territories 

There is a sense in which we all live in two worlds. First, we 
live in the world of happenings about us which we know at first 
hand. But this is an extremely small world, consisting only of that 
continuum of the things that we have actually seen, felt, or heard — 
the flow of events constantly passing before our senses. So far as 
this world of personal experience is concerned, Africa, South Amer- 
ica, Asia, Washington, New York, or Los Angeles do not exist if wc 
have never been to these places. Chiang Kai-shek is only a name 
if we havj never seen him. When we ask ourselves how much we 
know at first hand, we discover that we know very little indeed. 

Most of our knowledge, acquired from parents, friends, schools, 
newspapers, books, conversation, speeches, and radio, is received 
verbally . All our knowledge of history, for example, comes to us 
only in words. The only proof we have that the Battle of Waterloo 
ever took place is that we have had reports to that effect. These 
reports are not given us bv people who saw it happen, but are based 



SYMBOLS 


32 

on other reports: reports of reports of reports, which go back ulti- 
mately to the first-hand reports given by people who did see it hap- 
pening. It is through reports, then, and through reports of reports, 
that we receive most knowledge: about government, about what is 
happening in China, about what picture is showing at the down- 
town theater — in fact, about anything which we do not know 
through direct experience. 

Let us call this world that comes to us through words the verbal 
world, as opposed to the world we know or are capable of knowing 
through our own experience, which we shall call the extensional 
world . (The reason for the choice of the word “extensional” will 
become clear later.) The human being, like any other creature, begins 
to make his acquaintance with the extensional world from infancy. 
Unlike other creatures, however, he begins to receive, as soon as he 
can learn to understand, reports, reports of reports, reports of reports 
of reports. In addition he receives inferences made from reports, 
inferences made from other inferences, and so on. By the time a 
child is a few years old, has gone to school and to Sunday school, 
and has made a few friends, he has accumulated a considerable 
amount of second- and third-hand information about morals, geog- 
raphy, history, nature, people, games — all of which information to- 
gether constitutes his verbal world. 

Now this verbal world ought to stand in relation to the exten- 
sional world as a map does to the territory it is supposed to repre- 
sent. If a child grows to adulthood with a verbal world in his head 
which corresponds fairly closely to the extensional world that he 
finds around him in his widening experience, he is in relatively 
small danger of being shocked or hurt by what he finds, because 
his verbal world has told him what, more or less, to expect. He is 
prepared for life. If, however, he grows up with a false map in 
his head — that is, with a head crammed with false knowledge and 
superstition — he will constantly be running into trouble, wasting his 
efforts, and acting like a fool. He will not be adjusted to the world 
as it is; may, if the lack of adjustment is serious, end up in a 
mental hospital. 

Some of the follies we commit because of false maps in our heads 
are so commonplace that we do not even think of them as remark- 



MAPS AND TERRITORIES 


33 

able. There are those who protect themselves from accidents by 
carrying a rabbit’s foot in the pocket. Some refuse to sleep on the 
thirteenth floor of hotels — this is so common that most big hotels, 
even in the capitals of our scientific culture, skip “13” in numbering 
their floors. Some plan their lives on the basis of astrological predic- 
tions. Some play fifty-to-one shots on the basis of dream books. 
Some hope to make their teeth whiter by changing their brand of 
tooth paste. All such people are living in verbal worlds that bear 
little, if any, resemblance to the extensional world. 

Now, no matter how beautiful a map may be, it is useless to a 
traveler unless it accurately shows the relationship of places to each 
other, the structure of the territory. If we draw, for example, a big 
dent in the outline of a lake for, let us say, artistic reasons, the map 
is worthless. But if we are just drawing maps for fun without pay- 
ing any attention to the structure of the region, there is nothing in 
the world to prevent us from putting in all the extra curlicues and 
twists we want In the lakes, rivers, and roads. No harm will be 
done unless someone tries to plan a trip by such a map . 

Similarly, by means of imaginary or false reports, or by false 
inferences from good reports, or by mere rhetorical exercises, we 
can manufacture at will, with language, “maps” which have no 
reference to the extensional world. Here again no harm will be 
done unless someone makes the mistake of regarding such “maps” 
as representing real territories. 

We all inherit a great deal of useless knowledge, and a great deal 
c£ misinformation and error (maps that were formerly thought to 
be accurate), so that there is always a portion of what we have been 
told that must be discarded. But the cultural heritage of our civi- 
lization that is transmitted to us— our socially pooled knowledge, 
both sciegtific and humane — has been valued principally because we 
have believed that it gives us accurate maps of experience. The 
analogy of verbal worlds to maps is an important one and will be 
referred to frequently throughout this book. It should be noticed 
at this point, however, that there are two ways of getting false maps 
of the world into our heads: first, by having them given to us; 
second, by making them up for ourselves by misreading the true 
maps given to us. 



34 


SYMBOLS 


Applications 

The reader who wants to put to work the ideas that are presented in 
this book would do well to start keeping a scrapbook or a filing folder 
or a set of 5 x 7 filing cards. Start a collection of quotations, newspaper 
clippings, editorials, anecdotes, and so forth, that illustrate in one way 
or another the confusion of symbols with things symbolized. The 
ensuing chapters of this book will suggest other kinds of confusion to 
look for. Look for those instances in which people seem to think that 
there are necessary connections between symbols and things symbolized 
— between words and what words stand for. 

After a few such examples are collected and studied, the reader will 
be able to recognize readily similar patterns of thought in his con- 
temporaries and friends and, perhaps, even in himself. 

I. The following examples of language in action, taken from a variety 
of sources, are examples of what one should be on the lookout for. The 
reader should try to state explicitly what silent, unconscious assumptions 
about the relation of words (maps) to things (territories) seem to be 
guiding the writer or speaker in each case. 

i. The gates of the 1933 Century of Progress Exposition at Chicago 
were opened, through the use of the photoelectric cell, by the light of the 
star, Arcturus. It is reported that a woman, on being told this, remarked, 
“Isn’t it wonderful how those scientists know the names of all those 
stars 1” 

sample analysis: Apparently this woman, on the basis of an un- 
conscious assumption that there are necessary connections between 
names and things, believes that scientists discover a star’s name 
by observing it very carefully. Come to think of it, how do stars 
get their names? Obviously, every star that has a name was given 
its name by somebody at some time. Apparently in ancient times 
people named stars after gods and goddesses, and star-clusters on 
the basis of accidental resemblances to known objects, like the 
Dipper and the Scales. Query: Do scientists have any more sys- 
tematic ways of naming stars today? Surely they must. Check and 
find out. Webster s New International Dictionary or the Encyclo- 
pedia Britannica will help. 



APPLICATIONS 


35 

2. (A child is being questioned.) “Could the sun have been called 
‘moon’ and the moon ‘sun’? — No. — Why not? — Because the sun shines 
brighter than the moon . . . . But if everyone had called the sun ‘moon* 
and the moon ‘sun/ would we have known it was wrong? — Yes, because 
the sun is always bigger, it always stays li\e it is and so does the moon. 
— Yes, but the sun isn’t changed, only its name. Could it have been called 
. . . etc.? — No . . . Because the moon rises in the evening, and the 
sun in the day ” — jean piaget, The Child ' s Conception of the World 

3. The City Council of Cambridge, Massachusetts, unanimously passed 
a resolution (December 1939) making it illegal “to possess, harbor, 
sequester, introduce or transport, within the city limits, any book, map, 
magazine, newspaper, pamphlet, handbill or circular containing the 
words Lenin or Leningrad.” 

4. “State Senator John McNaboe of New York bitterly opposed a bill 

for the control of syphilis in May, 1937, because ‘the innocence of chil- 
dren might be corrupted by a widespread use of the term. . . . This 
particular word creates a shudder in every decent woman and decent 
man.’ ” — stuart chase, The Tyranny of Words 

5. A picture in the magazine Life (October 28, 1940), shows the 
backs of a sailor’s hands, with the letters ‘Wl-d f-a-s-t” tattooed on 
the fingers. The caption explains, “This tattoo was supposed to keep 
sailors from falling off yardarm.” 

6. “New York (AP) — A man is facing death on a first-degree murder 
conviction by a General Sessions court jury in a fatal shooting growing 
out of what he called an insult to his dog. Testimony at the trial showed 
Christopher Maikish, 40, shot Vincent Conlon, a war veteran, last 
September in a restaurant. 

“Witnesses said the trouble started when Conlon suggested Maikish 
take a half-eaten hamburger sandwich home to his dog. Maikish replied 
the dog would not eat hamburger and Conlon called the animal, a pure 
bred Doberman pinscher, a ‘fussy mutt/ Because there was no recom- 
mendation of mercy, a sentence of death in the electric chair is manda- 
tory.” — Chicago Daily News, January 22, 1948 

7. **• . . the Ukrainian delegate charged Greece had ‘anti-democratic* 

motives in wanting to demilitarize the Bulgarian border. Philip Dra- 
goumis, Greek undersecretary of foreign affairs, tartly replied, ‘Democ- 
racy is a Greek word and Greece knows better than anyone else how to 
interpret it/ ” — Unidentified newspaper clipping 



SYMBOLS 


36 

8. “The naive attitude towards language may be illustrated by an 
experiment that was conducted with a group of high-school seniors. 
They were asked to explain why a dog is called a dog. Here are some of 
the curious and revealing answers: ‘A dog is called a dog, I think, be- 
cause when it was first seen it got its name because it was an easy word 
to pronounce.’ ‘The same reason that God is called God.’ ‘I think they 
called a dog a dog because they didn’t have anything else to call it.’ 
‘A dog is called dog for the simple reason that prehistoric man saw a 
strange animal running around and the sounds that came out of his 
mouth at that time resembled a dog. Hence a dog is called a dog.’ ‘I 
think a dog is called a dog because the name dog is given to the lowest 
form of animal. I mean a dog doesn’t care where or how he does his 
dirt.’ ” 

— Charles i. glicksberg, in ETC.: A Review of General Semantics 

9. “If you spell it backwards, it spells Nature’s!” 

— Patent medicine advertisement 

II. Select a word which has a strong emotional charge (negative or 
•positive), such as “spider,” “gun,” “math,” or “Mexican,” and describe 
the feelings which are associated with the term. Where did they come 
from? To what extent are these feelings based on reactions to the “map” 
and to what extent on an actual acquaintance with the “territory”? 

III. Look around for some other examples, like the mother of Margaret 
referred to in this chapter, where someone is in danger of substituting 
fictitious maps for reality. 

IV. Take an orange or an apple that bears no special distinguishing 
marks. Write a description of it in a couple of hundred words. Put your 
orange or apple in with a dozen or so similar oranges or apples, give 
the description to a friend and see if he can readily pick the one de- 
scribed from the others. Then let him write a description of another one 
and try to pick out the one he has described. 

V. What makes a map a “good” map or a “bad” one, anyway? If an 
oudine map of the United States had the following cities arranged in 
this fashion (the left standing for the west): 

St. Louis Washington San Francisco 

people would say it was an incorrect map. What would be the result 
of trying to follow such a map? What needs to be done to make it a 
correct map? Something more is involved than just putting the names 



APPLICATIONS 


37 

in the “right places.” How do we know what the “right places” are? 
The map is certainly not the territory but aren’t there some similarities 
between a correct map and the territory it stands for? Try to put into 
words some of these similarities and see how well they apply to words 
and the things that words stand for. 

For further discussion see Alfred Korzybski, Science and Sanity 
(Science Press, 1933), p. 75 °> or Wendell Johnson, People in Quandaries 
(Harper, 1946), pp. 131-33. 

VI. “A newspaper gives the reader the impression of being closer to 
life than a book, and he is likely to confuse what he has read in it with 
actual experiences he has not had. 

“ ‘You should have seen Charlie White/ a middle-aged bore may say 
to me in a bar. 'He had a left hook.’ 

“I too know that White had a left hook, because I read about it so 
often, but it is no more or less likely that the fellow talking saw him 
than that I saw Ty Cobb, about whose base-running I talk with the 
same knowing ease. I don’t think I ever did see Cobb, personally, but I 
do know I saw ’Hans Wagner and Christy Mathewson in a game be- 
tween the Pirates and Giants when I was small, and I can’t remember 
what either of them looked like on that particular day or what he did. 
What I \now about them, like what I know about Cobb, is simply the 
cumulative product of newspaper stories and newspaper photographs, 
and in that way I know as much about Cobb as I do about either. 

“In the same way, the first President I actually saw was Warren 
Gamaliel Harding, but he is a paler memory to me than the first Roose- 
velt, or Taft or Wilson. And it is incredible to me even now that I 
never saw Franklin D. Roosevelt, who was nearly as much of a per- 
sonal experience as my own father.” 

— a. j. liebling. The Way ward Pressman 

How much of what Mr. Liebling “knows” is “map-knowledge” and 
how much is “territory-knowledge”? Recall some similar experiences 
from your own reading and background. 



3. The Language of Reports 


To put it briefly, in human speech, different sounds have dif- 
ferent meanings . To study this co-ordination of certain sounds 
with certain meanings is to study language . This co-ordination 
makes it possible for man to interact with great precision , When 
we tell someone, for instance, the address of a house he has 
never seen, we are doing something which no animal can do, 

LEONARD BLOOMFIELD 

Vague and insignificant forms of speech, and abuse of language, 
have so long passed for mysteries of science; and hard or mis- 
applied words with little or no meaning have, by prescription, 
such a right to be mistaken for deep learning and height of 
specidation, that it will not be easy to persuade either those who 
speaks or those who hear them, that they are but the covers of 
ignorance and hindrance of true knowledge, John locke 


For the purposes of the interchange of information, the basic 
symbolic act is the report of what we have seen, heard, or felt: 
“There is a ditch on each side of the road.” “You can get those at 
Smith’s hardware store for $2.75.” “There aren’t any fish on that 
side of the lake, bat there are on this side.” Then there are reports 
of reports: “The longest waterfall in the world is Victoria Falls in 
Rhodesia.” “The Battle of Hastings took place in 1066.” “The papers 
say that there was a big smash-up on Highway 41 near Evansville,” 
Reports adhere to the following rules: first, they are capable of 
verification ; second, they exclude ; as far as possible, inferences and 
judgments . (These terms will be defined later.) 



VERIFIABILITY 


39 


Verifiability 

Reports are verifiable. We may not always be able to verify them 
ourselves, since we cannot track down the evidence for every piece 
of history we know, nor can we all go to Evansville to see the 
remains of the smash-up before they are cleared away. But if we 
are roughly agreed on the names of things, on what constitutes a 
“foot,” “yard,” “bushel,” and so on, and on how to measure time, 
there is relatively little danger of our misunderstanding each other. 
Even in a world such as we have today, in which everybody seems 
to be quarreling with everybody else, we still to a surprising degree 
trust each other's reports . We ask directions of total strangers when 
we are traveling. We follow directions on road signs without being 
suspicious of the people who put them up. We read books of infor- 
mation about science, mathematics, automotive engineering, travel, 
geography, the history of costume, and other such factual matters, 
and we usually assume that the author is doing his best to tell us as 
truly as he can what he knows. And we are safe in so assuming 
most of the time. With the emphasis that is being given today to 
the discussion of biased newspapers, propagandists, and the general 
untrustworthiness of many of the communications we receive, we 
are likely to forget that we still have an enormous amount of re- 
liable information available and that deliberate misinformation, ex- 
cept in warfare, still is more the exception than the rule. The desire 
for self-preservation that compelled men to evolve means for the 
exchange of information also compels them to regard die giving 
of false information as profoundly reprehensible. 

At its # highest development, the language of reports is the lan- 
guage of science. By “highest development” we mean greatest gen- 
eral usefulness. Presbyterian and Catholic, workingman and capital- 
ist, German and Englishman, agree on the meanings of such symbols 
as 2 X 2 — 4, ioo° C HNOs, a.m., 7940 aox, poo r.p.m., 1000 
kjlo watts, pulex irritans, and so on. But how, it may be asked, can 
there be agreement about even this much among people who are 
at each other’s throats about practically everything else: political 



40 THE LANGUAGE OF REPORTS 

philosophies, ethical ideas, religious beliefs, and the survival of my 
business versus the survival of yours? The answer is that circum- 
stances compel men to agree, whether they wish to or not. If, for 
example, there were a dozen different religious sects in the United 
States, each insisting on its own way of naming the time of the day 
and the days of the year, the mere necessity of having a dozen dif- 
ferent calendars, a dozen different kinds of watches, and a dozen 
sets of schedules for business hours, trains, and radio programs, to 
say nothing of the effort that would be required for translating terms 
from one nomenclature to another, would make life as we know it 
impossible.* 

The language of reports, then, including the more accurate re- 
ports of science, is “map” language, and because it gives us reason- 
ably accurate representations of the “territory,” it enables us to get 
work done. Such language may often be what is commonly termed 
“dull” or “uninteresting” reading: one does not usually read log- 
arithmic tables or telephone directories for entertainment. But we 
could not get along without it. There are numberless occasions in 
the talking and writing we do in everyday life that require that we 
state things in such a way that everybody will agree with our 
formulation . 

1 According to information supplied by the Association of American Railroads, 
“Before 1883 there were nearly 100 different time zones in the United States. It 
wasn’t until November 18 of that year that ... a system of standard time was 
adopted here and in Canada. Before then there was nothing but local or ‘solar* 
time. . . . The Pennsylvania Railroad in the East used Philadelphia time, which 
was five minutes slower than New York time and five minutes faster than Balti- 
more time. The Baltimore & Ohio used Baltimore time for trains running out of 
Baltimore, Columbus time for Ohio, Vincennes (Indiana) time for those going out of 
Cincinnati. . . . When it was noon in Chicago, it was 12:31 in Pittsburgh; 12:24 
in Cleveland; 12:17 in Toledo; 12:13 in Cincinnati; 12:09 in Louisville; 12:07 in 
Indianapolis; 11:50 in St. Louis; 11:48 in Dubuque; 11:39 in St. Paul,cand 11:27 
in Omaha. There were 27 local time zones in Michigan alone. ... A person travel- 
ing from Eastport, Maine, to San Francisco, if he wanted always to have the right 
railroad time and get off at the right place, had to twist the hands of his watch 20 
times en route.** Chicago Daily News, September 29, 1948 



INFERENCES 


41 


Inferences 

The reader will find that practice in writing reports is a quick 
means of increasing his lingaistic awareness. It is an exercise which 
will constantly provide him with his own examples of the principles 
of language and interpretation under discussion. The reports should 
be about first-hand experience — scenes the reader has witnessed 
himself, meetings and social events he has taken part in, people he 
knows well. They should be of such a nature that they can be 
verified and agreed upon. For the purpose of this exercise, inferences 
will be excluded. 

Not that inferences are not important— we rely in everyday life 
and in science as much on inferences as on reports — in some areas 
of thought, for example, geology, paleontology, and nuclear physics, 
reports are the foundations, but inferences (and inferences upon 
inferences) are the main body of the science. An inference, as we 
shall use the term, is a statement about the unknown made on the 
basis of the known. We may infer from the handsomeness of a 
woman’s clothes her wealth or social position; we may infer from 
the character of the ruins the origin of the fire that destroyed the 
building; we may infer from a man’s calloused hands the nature of 
his occupation; we may infer from a senator’s vote on an armaments 
bill his attitude toward Russia; we may infer from the structure 
of the land the path of a prehistoric glacier; we may infer from a 
halo on an unexposed photographic plate that it has been in the 
vicinity of radioactive materials; we may infer from the noise an 
engine makes the condition of its connecting rods. Inferences may 
be carelessly or carefully made. They may be made on the basis of 
a great background of previous experience with the subject-matter, 
or no experience at all. For example, the inferences a good mechanic 
can make about the internal condition of a motor by listening to it 
are often startlingly accurate, while the inferences made by an 
amateur (if he tries to make any) may be entirely wrong. But the 
common characteristic of inferences is that they are statements about 
matters which are not directly known, made on the basis of what 
has been observed. 



$2 THE LANGUAGE OF REPORTS 

The avoidance of inferences in our suggested practice in report- 
writing requires that we make no guesses as to what is going on 
in other people’s minds. When we say, “He was angry,” we are not 
reporting; we are making an inference from such observable facts 
as the following: “He pounded his fist on the table; he swore; he 
threw the telephone directory at his stenographer.” In this par- 
ticular example, the inference appears to be fairly safe; nevertheless, 
it is important to remember, especially for the purposes of training 
oneself, that it is an inference. Such expressions as “He thought a 
lot of himself,” “He was scared of girls,” “He has an inferiority 
complex,” made on the basis of casual social observation, and “What 
Russia really wants to do is to establish a world communist dictator- 
ship,” made on the basis of casual newspaper reading, are highly 
inferential. One should keep in mind their inferential character 
and, in our suggested exercises, should substitute for them such 
statements as “He rarely spoke to subordinates in the plant,” “I saw 
him at a party, and he never danced except when one of the girls 
asked him to,” “He wouldn’t apply for the scholarship although I 
believe he could have won it easily,” and “The Russian delegation 
to the United Nations has asked for A, B, and C. Last year they 
voted against M and N, and voted for X and Y. On the basis of 
facts such as these, the newspaper I read makes the inference that 
what Russia really wants is to establish a world communist dic- 
tatorship. I tend to agree.” 


Judgments 

In our suggested writing exercise, judgments are also to be ex- 
cluded. By judgments, we shall mean all expressions of the ^vr iter s 
approval or disapproval of the occurrences, persons, or objects he is 
describing . For example, a report cannot say, “It was a wonderful 
car,” hut must say something like this: “It has been driven 50,000 
miles and has never required any repairs.” Again statements like 
“jack lied to us” must be suppressed in favor of the more verifiable 
statement, “Jack told us he didn’t have the keys to his car with 
him. However, when he pulled a handkerchief out of his pocket a 



JUDGMENTS 43 

few minutes later, a bunch of car keys fell out.” Also a report may 
not say, “The senator was stubborn, defiant, and unco-operative,” 
or “The senator courageously stood by his principles”; it must say 
instead, “The senator’s vote was the only one against the bill.” 

Many people regard statements like the following as statements 
of “fact”: “Jack lied to us,” “Jerry is a thief ” “Tommy is clever ” 
As ordinarily employed, however, the word “lied” involves first an 
inference (that Jack knew otherwise and deliberately misstated the 
facts) and secondly a judgment (that the speaker disapproves of 
what he has inferred that Jack did). In the other two instances, we 
may substitute such expressions as, “Jerry was convicted of theft 
and served two years at Waupun,” and “Tommy plays the violin, 
leads his class in school, and is captain of the debating team.” After 
all. to say of a man that he is a “thief” is to say in effect, “He has stolen 
and will steal again ” — which is more of a prediction than a report. 
Even to say, “He has stolen,” is to make an inference (and simul- 
taneously to pass a judgment) on an act about which there may be 
difference of opinion among those who have examined the evidence 
upon which the conviction was obtained. But to say that he was 
“convicted of theft” is to make a statement capable of being agreed 
upon through verification in court and prison records. 

Scientific verifiability rests upon the external observation of facts, 
not upon the heaping up of judgments. If one person says, “Peter 
is a deadbeat,” and another says, “I think so too,” the statement has 
not been verified. In court cases, considerable trouble is sometimes 
caused by witnesses who cannot distinguish their judgments from 
the facts upon which those judgments are based. Cross-examinations 
under these circumstances go something like this: 

Witney: That dirty double-crosser Jacobs ratted on me. 

defense attorney: Your honor, 1 object. 

judge: Objection sustained. (Witness’s remark is stricken from the 
record.) Now, try to tell the court exactly what happened. 

witness: Pie double-crossed me, the dirty, lying rat! 

defense attorney: Your honor, I object! 

Judge: Objection sustained. (Witness's remark is again stricken from 
the record.) Will the witness try to stick to the facts. 



THE LANGUAGE OF REPORTS 


44 

witness : But Vm telling you the facts, your honor . He did double * 

cross me. 

This can continue indefinitely unless the cross-examiner exercises 
some ingenuity in order to get at the facts behind the judgment. 
To the witness it is a “fact” that he was “double-crossed.” Often 
hours of patient questioning are required before the factual bases 
of the judgment are revealed. 

Many words, of course, simultaneously convey a report and a 
judgment on the fact reported, as will be discussed more fully in a 
later chapter. For the purposes of a report as here defined, these 
should be avoided. Instead of “sneaked in,” one might say “entered 
quietly”; instead of “politicians,” “congressmen,” or “aldermen,” or 
“candidates for office”; instead of “bureaucrat,” “public official”; 
instead of “tramp,” “homeless unemployed”; instead of “dictatorial 
set-up,” “centralized authority”; instead of “crackpots,” “holders of 
uncommon views.” A newspaper reporter, for example, is not per- 
mitted to write, “A crowd of suckers came to listen to Senator 
Smith last evening in that rickety firetrap and ex-dive that disfigures 
the south edge of town.” Instead he says, “Between seventy-five and 
a hundred people heard an address last evening by Senator Smith at 
the Evergreen Gardens near the South Side city limits.” 


Snarl- Words and Purr-Words 

Throughout this book, it is important to remember that we are 
considering language not as an isolated phenomenon, but language 
in action — language in the full context of the nonlinguistic events 
which are its setting. The making of noises with the voc^l organs 
is a muscular activity, and like other muscular activities, often in- 
voluntary. Our responses to powerful stimuli, such as to something 
that makes us very angry, are a complex of muscular and physiolog- 
ical events: the contracting of fighting muscles, the increase of 
blood pressure, change in body chemistry, clutching one’s hair, and 
so on, and the making of noises, such as growls and snarls. We are 
a little too dignified, perhaps, to growl like dogs, but we do the 



SNARL-WORDS AND PURK-WOKDS 45 

next best thing and substitute series of words, such as “You dirty 
double-crosser!” “The filthy scum!” Similarly, if we are pleasurably 
agitated, we may, instead of purring or wagging the tail, say 
things like “She’s the sweetest girl in all the world !” 

Speeches such as these are, as direct expressions of approval or 
disapproval, judgments in their simplest form. They may be said 
to be human equivalents of snarling and purring. “She’s the sweet- 
est girl in all the world” is not a statement about the girl; it is a 
purr. This seems to be a fairly obvious fact; nevertheless, it is sur- 
prising how often, when such a statement is made, both the speaker 
and the hearer feel that something has been said about the girl. 
This error is especially common in the interpretation of utterances 
of orators and editorialists in some of their more excited denuncia- 
tions of “Reds,” “greedy monopolists,” “Wall Street,” “radicals,” 
“foreign ideologies,” and in their more fulsome dithyrambs about 
“our way of life.” Constantly, because of the impressive sound of the 
words, the elaborate structure of the sentences, and the appearance 
of intellectual progression, we get the feeling that something is 
being said about something. On closer examination, however, we 
discover that these utterances merely say, “What I hate (‘Reds,’ 
‘Wall Street,’ or whatever) I hate very, very much,” and “What I 
like (‘our way of life’) I like very, very much.” We may call such 
utterances “snarl-words” and “purr-words.” They are not reports 
describing conditions in the extensional world in any way. 

To call these judgments “snarl- words” and “purr-words” does 
not mean that we should simply shrug them off. It means that we 
should be careful to allocate the meaning correctly — placing such 
a statement as “She’s the sweetest girl in the world” as a revelation 
of the speaker’s state of mind, and not as a revelation of facts about 
the girl f If the “snarl-words” about “Reds,” or “greedy monopolists” 
are accompanied by verifiable reports (which would also mean that 
we have previously agreed as to who, specifically, is meant by the 
terms “Reds” or “greedy monopolists”), we might find reason to be 
just as disturbed as the speaker. If the “purr-words” about the 
sweetest girl in the world are accompanied by verifiable reports 
about her appearance, manners, skill in cooking, and so on, we 
might find reason to admire her too. But “snarl-words” and “purr- 



46 THE LANGUAGE OF REPORTS 

words” as such, unaccompanied by reports, offer nothing further to 
discuss, except possibly the question, “Why do you feel as you do?” 

It is usually fruitless to debate such questions as “Was President 
Roosevelt a great statesman or merely a skillful politician?” “Is the 
music of Wagner the greatest music of all time or is it. merely 
hysterical screeching?” “Which is the finer sport, tennis or base- 
ball?” “Could Joe Louis in his prime have licked Bob Fitzsimmons 
in his prime?” To take sides on such issues of conflicting judgments 
is to reduce oneself to the same level of stubborn imbecility as one’s 
opponents. But to ask questions of the form, “Why do you like 
(or dislike) Roosevelt (or Wagner, or tennis, or Joe Louis) ?” is to 
learn something about one’s friends and neighbors. After listening 
to their opinions and their reasons for them, we may leave the dis- 
cussion slightly wiser, slightly better informed, and perhaps slightly 
less one-sided than we were before the discussion began. 


How Judgments Stop Thought 

A judgment (“He is a fine boy,” “It was a beautiful service,” 
“Baseball is a healthful sport,” “She is an awful bore”) is a con- 
clusion, summing up a large number of previously observed facts. 
The reader is probably familiar with the fact that students almost 
always have difficulty in writing themes of the required length 
because their ideas give out after a paragraph or two. The reason 
for this is that those early paragraphs contain so many judgments 
that there is little left to be said. When the conclusions are care- 
fully excluded, however, and observed facts are given instead, there 
is never any trouble about the length of papers; in fact, they tend 
to become too long, since inexperienced writers, when told to give 
facts, often give far more than are necessary, because they lack 
discrimination between the important and the trivial. 

Still another consequence of judgments early in the course of 
a written exercise — and this applies also to hasty judgments in every- 
day thought — is the temporary blindness they induce. When, for 
example, an essay starts with the words, “He was a real Wall Street 
executive,” or “She was a typical cute little co-ed,” if we continue 



HOW JUDGMENTS STOP THOUGHT 47 

writing at all, we must make all our later statements consistent with 
those judgments. The result is that all the individual characteristics 
of this particular “executive” or this particular “co-ed” are lost 
sight of entirely; and the rest of the essay is likely to deal not with 
observed facts, but with the writer’s private notion (based on pre- 
viously read stories, movies, pictures, and so forth) of what “Wall 
Street executives” or “typical co-eds” look like. The premature judg- 
ment, that is, often prevents us from seeing what is directly in front 
of us. Even if the writer feels sure at the beginning of a written 
exercise that the man he is describing is a “loafer” or that the scene 
he is describing is a “beautiful residential suburb,” he will con- 
scientiously keep such notions out of his head, lest his vision be 
obstructed. 


Slanting 

In the course of writing reports of personal experiences, it will 
be found that in spite of all endeavors to keep judgments out, some 
will creep in. An account of a man, for example, may go like this: 
“He had apparently not shaved for several days, and his face and 
hands were covered with grime. His shoes were torn, and his coat, 
which was several sizes too small for him, was spotted with dried 
clay.” Now, in spite of the fact that no judgment has been stated, 
a very obvious one is implied. Let us contrast this with another 
description of the same man. “Although his face was bearded and 
neglected, his eyes were clear, and he looked straight ahead as he 
walked rapidly down the road. He looked very tall; perhaps the 
fact that his coat was too small for him emphasized that impression. 
He was ^carrying a book under bis left arm, and a small terrier 
ran at his heels.” In this example, the impression about the same 
man is considerably changed, simply by the inclusion of new de- 
tails and the subordination of unfavorable ones. Even if explicit 
judgments are kept out of one’s writing, implied judgments will 
get in. 

How, then, can we ever give an impartial report? The answer is, 
of course, that we cannot attain complete impartiality while we 



THE LANGUAGE OF REPORTS 


4 » 

use the language of everyday life. Even with the very impersonal 
language of science, the task is sometimes difficult. Nevertheless, 
we can, by being aware of the favorable or unfavorable feelings that 
certain words and facts can arouse, attain enough impartiality for 
practical purposes. Such awareness enables us to balance the implied 
favorable and unfavorable judgments against each other. To learn 
to do this, it is a good idea to write two essays at a time on the 
same subject, both strict reports, to be read side by side: the first 
to contain facts and details likely to prejudice the reader in favor 
of the subject, the second to contain those likely to prejudice the 
reader against it. For example: 

FOR AGAINST 

He had white teeth. His teeth were uneven. 

His eyes were blue, his hair blond He rarely looked people straight 
and abundant. in the eye. 

He had on a clean blue shirt. His shirt was frayed at the cuffs. 

He often helped his wife with the He rarely got through drying 
dishes. dishes without breaking a few. 

His pastor spoke very highly of His grocer said he was always 

him. slow about paying his bills. 

Slanting Both Ways at Once 

This process of selecting details favorable or unfavorable to the 
subject being described may be termed slanting. Slanting gives no 
explicit judgments, but it differs from reporting in that it deliberately 
makes certain judgments inescapable. The writer striving for im- 
partiality will, therefore, take care to slant both for and against his 
subject, trying as conscientiously as he can to keep the balance even. 
The next stage of the exercise, then, should be to rewrite the parallel 
essays into a single coherent essay in which details on both sides 
are included. 

His teeth were white, but uneven; his eyes were blue, his hair blond 
and abundant. He did not often look people straight in the eye. His 
shirt was slightly frayed at the cuffs, but it was clean. He frequently 
helped his wife with the dishes, but he broke many of them. Opinion 



SLANTING BOTH WAYS AT ONCE 49 

about him in the community was divided. His grocer said he was slow 
about paying his bills, but his pastor spoke very highly of him. 

This example is, of course, oversimplified and admittedly not 
very graceful. But practice in writing such essays will first of all 
help to prevent one from slipping unconsciously from observable 
facts to judgments; that is, from “He was a member of the Ku 
Klux Klan” to “the dirty scoundrel!” Next, it will reveal how little 
we really want to be impartial anyway, especially about our best 
friends, our parents, our alma mater, our own children, our coun- 
try, the company we work for, the product we sell, our com- 
petitor’s product, or anything else in which our interests are deeply 
involved. Finally, we will discover that, even if we have no wish 
to be impartial, we write more clearly, more forcefully, and more 
convincingly by this process of sticking as close as possible to ob- 
servable facts. There will be, as someone once remarked, more 
horsepower and. less exhaust. 

A few weeks of practice in writing reports, slanted reports, and 
reports slanted both ways will improve powers of observation, as 
well as ability to recognize soundness of observation in the writings 
of others. A sharpened sense for the distinction between facts and 
judgments, facts and inferences, will reduce susceptibility to the 
flurries of frenzied public opinion which certain people find it to 
their interest to arouse. Alarming judgments and inferences can be 
made to appear inevitable by means of skillfully slanted reports. 
A reader who is aware of the technique of slanting, however, is 
relatively difficult to stampede by such methods. He knows too 
well that there may be other relevant facts which have been left out. 


Discovering One’s Bias 

Here, however, a caution is necessary. When a newspaper tells 
a story in a way that we dislike, leaving out facts we think impor- 
tant and playing up unimportant facts in ways that we think un- 
fair, we are often tempted to say, “Look how they’ve slanted the 
story! What a dirty trick!” In making such a statement we are. 



50 THE LANGUAGE OF REPORTS 

of course, making an inference about the newspaper’s editors. We 
are assuming that what seems important or unimportant to us seems 
equally important or unimportant to them, and on the basis of that 
assumption we are inferring that the editors “deliberately” gave 
the story a misleading emphasis. Is this necessarily the case? Can 
the reader, as an outsider, say whether a story assumes a given form 
because the editors “deliberately slanted it that way” or because 
that was the way the events appeared to them? 

The point is that, by the process of selection and abstraction 
imposed on us by our own interests and background, experience 
comes to all of us (including newspaper editors) already “slanted.” 
If you happen to be pro-CIO, pro-Catholic, and a midget-auto 
racing fan, your ideas of what is important or unimportant will of 
necessity be different from those of a man who happens to be in- 
different to all three of your favorite interests. If, then, some news- 
papers often seem to side with the big businessman on public issues, 
the reason is less a matter of “deliberate” slanting than the fact that 
publishers are often, in enterprises as large as modern urban news- 
papers, big businessmen themselves, accustomed both in work and 
in social life to associating with other big businessmen. Nevertheless, 
the best newspapers, whether owned by “big businessmen” or not, 
often do try to tell us as accurately as possible what is going on 
in the world, because they are run by newspapermen who conceive 
it to be part of their professional responsibility to present fairly the 
conflicting points of view in controversial issues. Such newspaper- 
men are reporters indeed. 

But to get back to our exercises — the importance of trying to 
“slant both ways” lies not in the hope of achieving a godlike im- 
partiality in one’s thinking and writing — which is manifestly an 
impossible goal. It lies in discovering what poor reporter*? most of 
us really are — in other words, how little we see of the world since 
we of necessity see it from our own point of view. To discover one’s 
own biases is the beginning of wisdom. 

If one man says, “Co-operatives will be the salvation of America,” 
and another replies, “Co-operatives are un-American,” they might 
as well stop talking right there. If, however, one says, “Co-operatives 
seem to me, from where 1 sit, to offer a solution to our problems,” 



DISCOVERING ONE'S BIAS 


5 * 

and the other says, " From where I sit \ they look like a pretty vicious 
institution,” the possibility of further communication between the 
two remains. “Whenever agreement or assent is arrived at in human 
affairs . * . this agreement is reached by linguistic, processes, or else 
it is not reached.” To be aware of one’s own “slant” and to be able 
to make allowances for it is to remain capable of continuing those 
linguistic processes that may eventually lead to agreement. 


Applications 

I. Here are a number of statements which the reader may attempt to 
classify as judgments, inferences, or reports. Since the distinctions are 
not always clear-cut, a one-word answer will not ordinarily be adequate. 
Note that we are concerned here with the nature of the statements, not 
their truth or falsity; for example, the statement, “Water freezes at io° 
Centigrade,” is, although inaccurate, a report. 

1. She goes to church only in order to show off her clothes. 
sample analysis: In usual circumstances under which such a state- 
ment would be made, this would be an inference, since people ordi- 
narily would not admit that they go to church for that reason. A 
judgment is also strongly implied, since it is assumed that one 
ought to have better reasons. 

2. There is something essentially unclean about eating meat and fish. 

3. Cary Grant has lots of personality. 

4. “Rough-grained Split Leather Brief Case; artificial leather gussets. 

3 position lock with key. 16 x n in. Color: black or brown. Shpg. wt. 2 
lbs. Price, $4.86.” — Sears, Roebuck and Company Catalog 

“Commuter — one who spends his life 
In riding to and from his wife; 

A man who shaves and takes a train 
And then rides back to shave again.” 

E. B. WHITE 

6. To commit murder is wrong under all circumstances. 

7* The Russian people do not want war. 

8. He is a typical bureaucrat. 



52 THE LANGUAGE OF REPORTS 

9. An intelligent man makes his own opportunities. 

10. The senator’s support of the bill was a move to catch the veteran 
vote. 

11. “This is the eve of the meeting in Philadelphia of the traitors, tatter- 
demalions, political degenerates and imbeciles and the leaven of gullible 
innocents who have adopted Henry Wallace as a composite fool and 
mahatma for the campaign of 1948. To the Communists, he is a fool. 
To the few earnest fools in his following, he is a Guru. They are hold- 
ing a convention according to the regular American political forms, but 
with some variations, to nominate as their candidate for President the 
candidate of Josef Stalin.” 

— westbrook pegler, in his column of July 22, 1948 

12. “Was there really a pressing national emergency? Harry Truman 
said there was. But who was talking — the President or the politician? 
Harry Truman’s call for a special session of Congress was made at a 
political convention; it would be judged largely on its political motives 
and for its political effect. Harry Truman, who, like all Presidents, 
occupies a dual position as head of the Government and leader of a 
political party, had used his powers as President to further his party’s 
fortune. 

“The maneuver was almost unprecedented. Not since 1856 had a 
President called back Congress in an election year. It was a daring 
stroke of political chicanery. . . .” — Time, July 26, 1948 

13. “That time of year thou may’st in me behold 

When yellow leaves, or few, or none do hang 
Upon those boughs that shake against the cold. 

Bare ruined choirs where late the sweet birds sang.” 

WILLIAM SHAKESPEARE 

14. “And Adam lived an hundred and thirty years, and begat a son in 

his likeness, after his image; and called his name Seth: And the days of 
Adam after he had begotten Seth were eight hundred years: and he 
begat sons and daughters: And all the days that Adam lived were nine 
hundred and thirty years: and he died.” — Genesis 5:3-5 

II. In addition to trying such exercises in report writing and the ex-? 
elusion of judgments and inferences as are suggested in this chapter, 
the reader might try writing (a) reports heavily slanted against persons 
or organizations he li\es, and (b) reports heavily slanted in favor of 



APPLICATIONS 


53 

persons or organizations he dish\es . For example, imagine that your 
luncheon club or fraternity or lodge is a subversive organization and 
report all the facts about its activities and members upon which un- 
favorable inferences could be made; or imagine that one of your most 
disagreeable neighbors has been offered a job two thousand miles away 
and write a factual letter of recommendation to help him get the job. 
Such exercises are a necessary preliminary to “slanting both ways at 
once,” which is obviously an impossible task for anyone who sees things 
in only one way. 

III. “Harry Thompson visited Russia in 1935”; “Rex Davis is a 
millionaire”; “Betty Armstrong does not believe in God.” Accepting 
these three statements as true, write several hundred words of un- 
founded inferences, and inferences upon inferences, about these people. 
Of course, you don’t know who Harry Thompson, Rex Davis, and Betty 
Armstrong are, but don’t let that stop you. Just go ahead and make 
inferences. 

TV. Selecting a .subject about which you are almost completely un- 
informed, such as “Whither Modern Youth?” “The Evils of Bureauc- 
racy,” “The CIO: a Threat to the American Way,” “The National 
Association of Manufacturers: a Threat to Democracy,” “The Future 
of Women,” “Let’s Cut Out the Fads and Frills in Education,” or “The 
South: Yesterday and Today,” write a one-thousand-word essay con- 
sisting solely of sweeping generalizations, broad judgments, and un- 
founded inferences. Use plenty of “loaded” words. Knock off five points 
(out of a possible 100) for each verifiable fact used. If you can con- 
sistently score 95 or better on all these and other such topics, and your 
grammar and spelling are plausible, quit your present job. Fame and 
fortune are within your grasp. 



4. Contexts 


[On being as\ed to define Near Orleans jazz]: “Man, taken you 
got to ask what it is, you'll never get to \now ” 

LOUIS ARMSTRONG 

Dictionary definitions frequently offer verbal substitutes for an 
unknown term which only conceal a lack of real understanding. 
Thus a person might look U P a foreign word and be quite satis- 
fied with the meaning “ bullfinch " without the slightest ability 
to identify or describe this bird. Understanding does not come 
through dealings unth words alone, but rather with the things 
for which they stand. Dictionary definitions permit us to hide 
from ourselves and others the extent of our ignorance. 

H. R. HUSE* 


How Dictionaries Are Made 

It is an almost universal belief that every word has a correct 
meaning, that we learn these meanings principally from teachers 
and grammarians (except that most of the time we don’t bother to, 
so that we ordinarily speak “sloppy English”), and that dictionaries 
and grammars are the supreme authority in matters of meaning 
and usage. Few people ask by what authority the writers of dic- 
tionaries and grammars say what they say. The docility with which 
most people bow down to the dictionary is amazing, and the person 
who says, “Well, the dictionary is wrong!” is looked upon as out 
of his mind. 

Let us see how dictionaries are made and how the editors arrive 
at definitions. What follows applies, incidentally, only to those dic- 
tionary offices where first-hand, original research goes on — not those 
in which editors simply copy existing dictionaries. The task of 

* From The Illiteracy of the Literate by H. R, Muse, copyright, 1933, by D. 
Appleton-Century Company, Inc. Reprinted by permission of Appleton-Century- 
Crofts, Inc. 



HOW DICTIONARIES ARE MADE 55 

writing a dictionary begins with the reading of vast amounts of the 
literature of the period or subject that it is intended to cover. As 
the editors read, they copy on cards every interesting or rare word, 
every unusual or peculiar occurrence of a common word, a large 
number of common words in their ordinary uses, and also the 
sentences in which each of these words appears, thus: 


pail 


The dairy pails bring home increase of milk 
Keats, Endymion 
h 44-45 


That is to say, the context of each word is collected, along with 
the word itself. For a really big job of dictionary writing, such as the 
Oxford English Dictionary (usually bound in about twenty-five 
volumes), millions of such cards are collected, and the task of edit- 
ing occupies decades. As the cards are collected, they are alphabet- 
ized and sorted. When the sorting is completed, there will be for 
each word anywhere from two to three to several hundred illustra- 
tive quotations, each on its card. 

To define a word, then, the dictionary editor places before him 
the stack of cards illustrating that word; each of the cards represents 
an actual use of the word by a writer of some literary or historical 
importance. He reads the cards carefully, discards some, rereads 
the rest, and divides up the stack according to what he thinks are 
the several senses of the word. Finally, he writes his definitions, 
following the hard-and-fast rule that each definition must be based 
on what^he quotations in front of him reveal about the meaning 
of the word. The editor cannot be influenced by what he thinks 
a given word ought to mean. He must work according to the cards, 
or not at all. 

The writing of a dictionary, therefore, is not a task of setting up 
authoritative statements about the “true meanings” of words, but a 
task of recording , to the best of ones ability, what various words 
have meant to authors in the distant or immediate past. The writer 
of a dictionary is a historian , not a lawgiver . If, for example, we had 




CONTEXTS 


56 

been writing a dictionary in 1890, or even as late as 19x9, we could 
have said that the word “broadcast” means “to scatter” (seed and so 
on) but we could not have decreed that from 1921 on, the common- 
est meaning of the word should become “to disseminate audible 
messages, etc., by wireless telephony.” To regard the dictionary as 
an “authority,” therefore, is to credit the dictionary writer with 
gifts of prophecy which neither he nor anyone else possesses. In 
choosing our words when we speak or write, we can be guided 
by the historical record afforded us by the dictionary, but we cannot 
be bound by it, because new situations, new experiences, new in- 
ventions, new feelings, are always compelling us to give new uses 
to old words. Looking under a “hood,” we should ordinarily have 
found, five hundred years ago, a monk; today, we find a motorcar 
engine. 


Verbal and Physical Contexts 

The way in which ths dictionary writer arrives at his definitions 
is merely the systematization of the way in which we all learn the 
meanings of words, beginning at infancy, and continuing for the 
rest of our lives. Let us say that we have never heard the word 
“oboe” before, and we overhear a conversation in wdiich the follow- 
ing sentences occur: 

He used to be the best oboe player in town. . . . Whenever they 
came to that oboe part in the third movement, he used to get very 
excited. ... I saw him one day at the music shop, buying a new 
reed for his oboe . . . . He never liked to play the clarinet after he 
started playing the oboe. . . . He said it wasn’t much fun, because it 
was too easy. ** 

Although the word may be unfamiliar, its meaning becomes clear 
to us as we listen. After hearing the first sentence, we know that an 
“oboe” is “played,” so that it must be either a game or a musical 
instrument. With the second sentence the possibility of its being 
a game is eliminated. With each succeeding sentence the possibili- 
ties as to what an “oboe” may be are narrowed down until we get 



VERBAL AND PHYSICAL CONTEXTS 57 

a fairly clear idea of what is meant. This is how we learn by verbal 
context. 

But even independently of this, we learn by physical and social 
context. Let us say that we are playing golf and that we have hit 
the ball in a certain way w r ith certain unfortunate results, so that 
our companion says to us, ‘That’s a bad slice ” He repeats this 
remark every time our ball fails to go straight. If we are reasonably 
bright, we learn in a very short time to say, when it happens again, 
“That’s a bad slice.” On one occasion, however, our friend says 
to us, “That’s not a slice this time; that’s a hoo\! f In this case we 
consider what has happened, and we wonder what is different about 
the last stroke from those previous. As soon as we make the distinc- 
tion, we have added still another word to our vocabulary. The result 
is that after nine holes of golf, we can use both these words ac- 
curately— -and perhaps several others as well, such as “divot,” “num- 
ber-five iron,” “approach shot,” without ever having been told 
what they mean . Indeed, we may play golf for years without ever 
being able to give a dictionary definition of “to slice”: “To strike 
(the ball) so that the face of the club draws inward across the face 
of the ball, causing it to curve toward the right in flight (with a 
right-handed player)” (Webster s New International Dictionary). 
But even without being able to give such a definition, we should 
still be able to use the word accurately whenever the occasion 
demanded. 

We learn the meanings of practically all our words (which are, 
it will be remembered, merely complicated noises), not from dic- 
tionaries, not from definitions, but from hearing these noises as 
they accompany actual situations in life and learning to associate 
certain noises with certain situations. Even as dogs learn to recog- 
nize “wofcds,” as for example by hearing “biscuit” at the same time 
as an actual biscuit is held before their noses, so do we all learn 
to interpret language by being aware of the happenings that accom- 
pany the noises people make at us — by being aware, in short, of 
contexts. 

The definitions given by little children in school show clearly 
how they associate words with situations; they almost always define 
in terms of physical and social contexts: “Punishment is when you 



CONTEXTS 


58 

have been bad and they put you in a closet and don’t let you have 
any supper.” “Newspapers are what the paper boy brings and you 
wrap up the garbage with it.” These are good definitions. The main 
reason that they cannot be used in dictionaries is that they are too 
specific; it would be impossible to list the myriads of situations in 
which every word has been used. For this reason, dictionaries give 
definitions on a high level of abstraction; that is, with particular 
references left out for the sake of conciseness. This is another rea- 
son why it is a great mistake to regard a dictionary definition as 
telling us all about a word. 

Extensional and Intensional Meaning 

From this point on, it will be necessary to employ some special 
terms in talking about meaning: extensional meaning, which will 
also be referred to as denotation , and intensional meaning — note the 
s — which will also be referred to as connotation. Briefly explained, 
the extensional meaning of an utterance is that which it points to 
or denotes in the extensional world, referred to in Chapter 2 above. 
That is to say, the extensional meaning is something that cannot 
be expressed in words, because it is that which words stand for. An 
easy way to remember this is to put your hand over your mouth 
and point whenever you are asked to give an extensional meaning. 



The intensional meaning of a word or expression, on the other 
hand, is that which is suggested (connoted) inside one’s head. 
Roughly speaking, whenever we express the meaning of words by 
uttering more words, we are giving intensional meaning, or con- 
notations. To remember this, put your hand over your eyes and 
let the words spin around in your head. 



extensional and intensional meaning 59 



Utterances may have, of course, both extensional and intensional 
meaning. If they have no intensional meaning at all — that is, if 
they start no notions whatever spinning about in our heads — they 
are meaningless noises, like foreign languages that we do not under- 
stand. On the other hand, it is possible for utterances to have no 
extensional meaning at all, in spite of the fact that they may start 
many notions spinning about in our heads. The statement, “Angels 
watch over my bed at night,” is one that has intensional but no 
extensional meaning. This does not mean that there are no angels 
watching over my bed at night. When we say that the statement 
has no extensional meaning, we are merely saying that we cannot 
see, touch, photograph, or in any scientific manner detect the pres- 
ence of angels. The result is that, if an argument begins on the 
subject whether or not angels watch over my bed, there is no way 
of ending the argument to the satisfaction of all disputants , the 
Christians and the non-Christians, the pious and the agnostic, the 
mystical and the scientific. Therefore, whether we believe in angels 
or not, knowing in advance that any argument on the subject will 
be both endless and futile, we can avoid getting into fights about it. 

When, on the other hand, statements have extensional content, 
as when ¥/e say, “This room is fifteen feet long,” arguments can 
come to a close. No matter how many guesses there are about the 
length of the room, all discussion ceases when someone produces a 
tape measure. This, then, is the important difference between ex- 
tensional and intensional meanings: namely, when utterances have 
extensional. meanings, discussion can be ended and agreement 
reached; when utterances have intensional meanings only and no 
extensional meanings, arguments may, and often do, go on in- 
definitely. Such arguments can result only in irreconcilable conflict. 



6o 


CONTEXTS 


Among individuals , they may result in the breaking up of friend- 
ships; in society , they often split organizations into bitterly opposed 
groups; among nations they may aggravate existing tensions so 
seriously as to become real obstacles to the peaceful settling of 
disputes. 

Arguments of this kind may be termed “non-sense arguments,” 
because they are based on utterances about which no sense data 
can be collected. Needless to say, there are occasions when the 
hyphen may be omitted — that depends on one’s feelings toward the 
particular argument under consideration. The reader is requested 
to provide his own examples of “non-sense arguments.” Even the 
foregoing example of the angels may give offense to some people, 
in spite of the fact that no attempt is made to deny or affirm the 
existence of angels. He can imagine, therefore, the uproar that 
might result from giving a number of examples from theology, 
politics, law, economics, literary criticism, and other fields in which 
it is not customary to distinguish clearly sense from non-sense. 


The “One Word, One Meaning” Fallacy 

Everyone, of course, who has ever given any thought to the 
meanings of words has noticed that they are always shifting and 
changing in meaning. Usually, people regard this as a misfortune, 
because it “leads to sloppy thinking” and “mental confusion.” To 
remedy this condition, they are likely to suggest that we should all 
agree on “one meaning” for each word and use it only with that 
meaning. Thereupon it will occur to them that we simply cannot 
make people agree in this way, even if we could set up an ironclad 
dictatorship under a committee of lexicographers who wf'uld place 
censors in every newspaper office and microphones in every home. 
The situation, therefore, appears hopeless. 

Such an impasse is avoided when we start with a new premise 
altogether — one of the premises upon which modern linguistic 
thought is based: namely, that no word ever has exactly the same 
meaning twice . The extent to which this premise fits the facts can 
be demonstrated in a number of ways. First, if we accept the proposi- 



“one word, one meaning” fallacy 6 l 

tion that the contexts of an utterance determine its meaning, it 
becomes apparent that since no two contexts are ever exactly the 
same, no two meanings can ever be exactly the same. How can we 
“fix the meaning” even for so common an expression as “to believe 
in” when it can be used in such sentences as the following: 

I believe in you (I have confidence in you). 

I believe in democracy (I accept the principles implied by the term 
democracy). 

I believe in Santa Claus (It is my opinion that Santa Claus exists). 

Secondly, we can take, for example, a word of “simple” meaning 
like “kettle.” But when John says “kettle,” its intensional meanings 
to him are the common characteristics of all the kettles John re- 
members. When Peter says “kettle,” however, its intensional mean- 
ings to him are the common characteristics of all the kettles he 
remembers. No matter how small or how negligible the differences 
may be between Johns “kettle” and Peter s “kettle,” there is some 
difference . 

Finally, let us examine utterances in terms of extensional mean- 
ings. If John, Peter, Harold, and George each say “my typewriter,” 
we would have to point to four different typewriters to get the ex- 
tensional meaning in each case: John’s new Underwood, Peter’s old 
Corona, Harold’s L. C. Smith, and the undenotable intended “type- 
writer” that George plans some day to buy: “My typewriter, when 
I buy one, will be a noiseless.” Also, if John says “my typewriter” 
today, and again “my typewriter” tomorrow, the extensional mean- 
ing is different in the two cases, because the typewriter is not 
exactly the same from one day to the next (nor from one minute 
to the next) : slow processes of wear, change, and decay are going 
on constantly. Although we can say, then, that the differences in 
the meanings of a word on one occasion, on another occasion a 
minute later, and on still another occasion another minute later, are 
negligible, we cannot say that the meanings are exactly the same. 

To say dogmatically that we know what a word means in advance 
of its utterance is nonsense. All we can know in advance is approxi- 
mately what it will mean. After the utterance, we interpret what has 
been said in the light of both verbal and physical contexts, and act 



62 


CONTEXTS 


according to our interpretation. An examination o£ the verbal con- 
text of an utterance, as well as the examination of the utterance 
itself, directs us to the intensional meanings; an examination of the 
physical context directs us to the extensional meanings. When John 
says to James, “Bring me that book, will you?” James looks in the 
direction of John's pointed finger (physical context) and sees a desk 
with several books on it (physical context); he thinks back over 
their previous conversation (verbal context) and knows which of 
those books is being referred to* 

Interpretation must be based, therefore, on the totality of con- 
texts. If it were otherwise, we should not be able to account for the 
fact that even if we fail to use the right (customary) words in some 
situations, people can very frequently understand us. For example: 

A: Gosh t look at that second baseman go! 

B (looking): You mean the shortstop? 

A: Yes, that’s what I mean. 

A: There must be something wrong with the oil line; the engine 
has started to balk. 

B: Don’t you mean “gas line”? 

A: Yes — didn’t I say gas line? 

Contexts sometimes indicate so clearly what we mean that often 
we do not even have to say what we mean in order to be under- 
stood. 


The Ignoring of Contexts 

It is clear, then, that the ignoring of contexts in any act of inter- 
pretation is at best a stupid practice. At its worst, it can be^a vicious 
practice. A common example is the sensational newspaper story in 
which a few words by a public personage are torn out of their 
context and made the basis of a completely misleading account. 
There is the incident of an Armistice Day speaker, a university 
teacher, who declared before a high-school assembly that the Gettys- 
burg Address was “a powerful piece of propaganda.” The context 
clearly revealed that “propaganda” was being used according to its 
dictionary meanings rather than according to its popular meanings; 



THE IGNORING OF CONTEXTS 


63 

it also revealed that the speaker was a very great admirer of Lin- 
coin’s. However, the local newspaper, completely ignoring the con- 
text, presented the account in such a way as to convey the impression 
that the speaker had called Lincoln a liar. On this basis, the news- 
paper began a campaign against the instructor. The speaker remon- 
strated with the editor of the newspaper, who replied, in effect, 
“I don’t care what else you said. You said the Gettysburg Address 
was propaganda, didn’t you?” This appeared to the editor complete 
proof that Lincoln had been maligned and that the speaker deserved 
to be discharged from his position at the university. Similar prac- 
tices may be found in advertisements. A reviewer may be quoted 
on the jacket of a book as having said, “A brilliant work,” while 
reading of the context may reveal that what he really said was, “It 
just falls short of being a brilliant work.” There are some people 
who will always be able to find a defense for such a practice in 
saying, “But he did use the words, ‘a brilliant work,’ didn’t he?” 

People in the course of argument very frequently complain about 
words meaning different things to different people. Instead of com- 
plaining, they should accept it as a matter of course. It would be 
startling indeed if the word “justice,” for example, were to have 
the same meaning to the nine justices of the United States Supreme 
Court; we should get nothing but unanimous decisions. It would 
be even more startling if “justice” meant the same to President 
Truman as to Joseph Stalin. If we can get deeply into our conscious- 
ness the principle that no word ever has the same meaning twice, 
we will develop the habit of automatically examining contexts, and 
this enables us to understand better what others are saying. As it 
is, however, we are all too likely, when a word sounds familiar, to 
assume that we understand it even when we don’t. In this way we 
read int<* people’s remarks meanings that were never intended. 
Then we waste energy in angrily accusing people of “intellectual 
dishonesty” or “abuse of words,” when their only sin is that they 
use words in ways unlike our own, as they can hardly help doing, 
especially if their background has been widely different from ours. 
There are cases of intellectual dishonesty and the abuse of words, of 
course, but they do not always occur in the places where people 
think they do. 

In the study of history or of cultures other than our own, con- 



CONTEXTS 


64 

texts take on special importance. To say, “There was no running 
water or electricity in the house,” does not condemn an English 
house in 1570, but says a great deal against a house in Chicago in 
1949. Again, if we wish to understand the Constitution of the United 
States, it is not enough, as our historians now tell us, merely to 
look up all the words in the dictionary and to read the inter- 
pretations written by Supreme Court justices. We must see the 
Constitution in its historical context: the conditions of life, the cur- 
rent ideas, the fashionable prejudices, and the probable interests 
of the people who drafted the Constitution. After all, the words 
“The United States of America” stood for quite a different-sized 
nation and a different culture in 1790 from what they stand for 
today. When it comes to very big subjects, the range of contexts 
to be examined, verbal, social, and historical, may become very 
large indeed. 


The Interaction of Words 

All this is not to say, however, that the reader might just as well 
throw away his dictionary, since contexts are so important. Any 
word in a sentence — any sentence in a paragraph, any paragraph 
in a larger unit — whose meaning is revealed by its context, is itself 
part of the context of the rest of the text. To look up a word in a 
dictionary, therefore, frequently explains not only the word itself, 
but the rest of the sentence, paragraph, conversation, or essay in 
which it is found. All words within a given context interact upon 
one another. 

Realizing, then, that a dictionary is a historical work, we should 
understand the dictionary thus: “The word mother has f most fre- 
quently been used in the past among English-speaking people to 
indicate a female parent.” From this we can safely infer, “If that 
is how it has been used, that is what it probably means in the sen- 
tence I am trying to understand.” This is what we normally do, 
of course; after we look up a word in the dictionary, we re-examine 
the context to see if the definition fits. If the context reads, “Mother 
began to form in the bottle,” one may have to look at the dictionary 
more carefully 



THE INTERACTION OF WORDS 65 

A dictionary definition, therefore, is an invaluable guide to inter- 
pretation. Words do not have a single “correct meaning”; they 
apply to groups of similar situations, which might be called areas of 
meaning. It is for definition in terms of areas of meaning that a 
dictionary is useful. In each use of any word, we examine the par- 
ticular context and the extensional events denoted (if possible) to 
discover the point intended within the area of meaning. 


Applications 

I. If you were compiling a dictionary and had before you only the 
following quotations, what definition would you write for the word 
“shrdlu”? Don't just try to find a one-word synonym but write out a 
ten to twenty word definition. 

1. He was exceptionally skillful with a shrdlu. 

2. He says he needs a shrdlu to shape the beams. 

3. I saw Mr. Jenkins yesterday buying a new handle for his shrdlu. 

4. The steel head of Jenkins’ shrdlu was badly chipped. 

5. Don’t bother with a saw or an ax; a shrdlu will do the job faster 
and better. 

From the following quotations make up a definition in less than 
twenty words of “wanky.” 

1. He seems to be perpetually wanky. 

2. Some people feel most wanky in the early morning but I get that 
way just before supper. 

3. If you want to get over that wanky feeling, take Johnson’s 
Homogenized Yeast Tablets. 

4. Everybody feels more or less wanky on a hot, humid day. 

5. . . . the wanky, wanky bluebell 
Thaf droops upon its stem . . . 

6. I am not cross, just wanky. 

II. Two new terms — extensional and intensional — were introduced 
in this chapter and will be used frequently in the rest of this book. 
Some readers assume from the sound and the spelling that extensional 
comes from “extension” in the sense of “prolonging, stretching out” 
and that intensional comes from “intention” meaning “purpose or de- 
sign.” Those who are inclined to make such incorrect assumptions would 



66 


CO N T jE X T S 


do well lo read again pages 54-58, asking, “What do these terms mean 
in this particular context?” 

III. There are a number of words which, depending on their con- 
fers, denote sometimes “the act of” and sometimes “the results of.” 
For example , compare the word “building” in the following sentences: 

a. The building of the stadium took three years. 

b. The building which was completed in 1897 still stands. 

In sentence a “building” refers to the “act of building,” “the building 
process”; in sentence b it refers to a “finished building.” Using the 
following words, compose parallel sentences in which the context makes 
clear a similar shift in meaning. 

entertainment 
invention 

knowledge 

IV. Which of the following in the contexts in which they are likely 
to occur are non-sense questions and which not? Can you tell why? 

1. Is democracy a failure? 

sample analysis: Unless there is reasonable agreement as to the 
extensional meaning of “democracy” and “failure,” a discussion of 
this question is not likely to be fruitful. It might be broken up into 
smaller questions such as these: “Assuming that democracy is a 
success if 60 or more per cent of those able to vote in presidential 
elections do vote, what was the percentage of voters in the elections 
of 1940, 1944, 1948 . . . ?” “Assuming that democracy may be 
said to be reasonably successful if intelligent but underprivileged 
children are given the opportunity to finish their schooling, what 
percentage of fourth grade children with I.Q.’s of over 125 finish 
high school?” If, however, we talk chiefly in terms of intensional 
meanings of the terms “democracy” and “failure,” disagreement 
and ill-feeling are likely to result. In many contexts where such a 
question is brought up for discussion, it would seem to be a non- 
sense question.) 

2. Did Abraham Lincoln write the Gettysburg Address? 

3. Why was I born? 

4. Is Eisenhower a greater general than Napoleon? 

5. Does Frank Sinatra earn more money than Bing Crosby? 

6. Should women work after marriage? 

7. What is the meaning of life? 


creation 

destruction 



APPLICATIONS 


6 ? 


8. Are whites more intelligent than Negroes? 

9. Where do flies go in the wintertime? 

10. Am I the first girl you ever kissed? 

11. Will the position of the stars on March 29 be such as to augur a 
successful business trip if I start out on that date ? My birthday is 
November 6 . 

12. Is the universe expanding? 

13. dear Dorothy dix: How can. a wife tell when her husband loves 

her? I have been married ten years and my husband and I quarrel con- 
stantly. He beats me and swears at me, and then tells how much he loves 
me and cries over it all. Now I would like to leave him and go back to 
my folks, but he won’t let me go. Says he can’t bear to be separated 
from me. Please tell me what to do. Do you think he really loves me? 
— unhappy WIFE.” — Chicago Sun-Times , December 15, 1948 

Read Wendell Johnson’s discussion of non-sense questions in his 
book, People in Quandaries (Harper, 1946), pp. 289-92. 

Y. Keep a record of some arguments you overhear in the next twenty- 
four hours with these questions in mind: 

1. What is the question at issue? 

2. Is it a non-sense question or could it be answered by observation of 
the disputed facts? 

3. To what extent do the participants reach agreement? If the argu- 
ment ends in disagreement, can you think of any procedures that might 
have helped to bring about agreement? 

VI. If you think you are clear about the “one word, one meaning” 
fallacy discussed in this chapter, try your hand at this problem: 

“Some years ago, being with a camping party in the mountains, I 
returned from a solitary ramble to find everyone engaged in a ferocious 
metaphysical dispute. The corpus of the dispute was a squirrel — a live 
squirrel supposed to be clinging to one side of a tree-trunk; while over 
against ffie tree’s opposite side a human being was imagined to stand. 
This human witness tries to get sight of the squirrel by moving rapidly 
around the tree, but no matter how fast he goes, the squirrel moves as 
fast in the opposite direction and always keeps the tree between himself 
and the man, so that never a glimpse of him is caught. The resultant 
metaphysical problem now is this: Does the man go around the squirrel, 
or not? He goes round the tree, sure enough, and the squirrel is on the 
tree; but does he go round the squirrel? In the unlimited leisure of the 



CONTEXTS 


68 

wilderness discussion had been worn threadbare. Everyone had taken 
sides, and was obstinate; and the numbers on both sides were even. Each 
side, when I appeared, therefore appealed to me to make it a majority. 
Mindful of the scholastic adage that whenever you meet a contradiction 
you must make a distinction, I immediately sought and found one, as 

follows. . . .” WILLIAM JAMES 

Make a distinction that would help end the argument and show 
clearly the source of the dispute. Note also the different meanings of 
the word “opposite” in this passage. 

VII. In any good standard dictionary, words are defined in terms of 

areas of meaning and, for most words, there are many different areas 

of meaning. See if you can provide contexts (in this case, sentences) 

that will make clear the different areas of meaning of the following 

words: r 

irame open 

strike pink 

cut point 

example: pool . 

The brook formed a pool at the bend. 

He lay in a pool of blood. 

Let’s go to the pool for a swim! 

The wheat pool succeeded in sustaining the price of wheat. 

He had the winning team in our baseball pool. 

The balls clicked sharply on the pool table. 

At the present time, it is not possible to pool the research findings 
of scientists all over the world. 

VUI. Sit in a chair and say the words, “my chair,” pointing to the 
object. Now, after moving to another chair, say again “my chair” and 
point to the object. Is the extensional meaning of the words still the 
same? Is the intensional meaning of the words still the same? 

Take a sheet of paper and write your name half a dozen times. There 
are now before you six examples of the extensional meaniifg of the 
words “my signature.” Compare them carefully. Are the extensional 
meanings in any two cases the same? Would they be the same if they 
were printed? 

Take a piece of chewing gum from its wrapper and examine it care- 
fully. Chew it for a time, then examine it again. Has the intensional 
meaning of “this chewing gum” been altered? How has the extensional 
meaning been affected? 



5. The Language 
of Social Cohesion 


Two little dogs sat by the fire 
Over a fender of coal dust; 

Said one little dog to the other little dog , 

“If you don't taU{, why t 1 must." 

MOTHER GOOSE 

Are words in Phatic Communion ["a type of speech in which 
ties of union are created by a mere exchange of words') used 
primarily to convey meaning , the meaning which is symbolically 
theirs? Certainly not ! They fulfil a social function and that is 
their principal aim, but they are neither the result of intellectual 
reflection , nor do they necessarily arouse reflection in the listener . 

BRONISLAW MALINOWSKI 


Noises as Expression 

What above all complicates the problems of interpretation is the 
fact that informative uses of language are intimately fused with 
older and deeper functions of language, so that only a small propor- 
tion of utterances in everyday life can be described as purely in- 
formative. We have every reason to believe that the ability to use 
language for strictly informative purposes was developed relatively 
late in tbe course of linguistic evolution. Long before we developed 
language as we now know it, we probably made, like the lower 
animals, all sorts of cries, expressive of such internal conditions as 
hunger, fear, loneliness, triumph, and sexual desire. We can recog- 
nize a variety of such noises and the conditions of which they are 
symptoms in our domestic animals. Gradually such noises seem to 
have become more and more differentiated, consciousness expanded. 



JO THE LANGUAGE OF SOCIAL COHESION 

Grunts and gibberings became language. Therefore, although we 
have developed language in which accurate reports, may be given, 
we almost universally tend to express our internal condition first , 
then to follow up with a report if necessary: “Ow! (expression) 
My tooth hurts” (report). Many utterances are, as we have seen 
with regard to “snarl-words” and “purr-words,” vocal equivalents 
of expressive gestures, such as crying in pain, baring the teeth in 
anger, nuzzling to express friendliness, dancing with delight, and 
so on. When words are used as vocal equivalents of expressive ges- 
tures, we shall say that language is being used in presymholic ways. 
These presymbolic uses of language coexist with our symbolic sys- 
tems, and the talking we do in everyday life is a thorough blending 
of symbolic and presymbolic. 

Indeed, the presymbolic factors in everyday language are always 
most apparent in expressions of strong feeling of any kind. If we 
carelessly step off a curb when a car is coming, it doesn’t much 
matter whether someone yells, “Look out!” or “Kiwotsuke!” or 
“Hey!” or ‘Trends garde!” or simply utters a scream, so long as 
whatever noise is made is uttered loudly enough to alarm us. It is 
the fear expressed in the loudness and tone of the cry that conveys 
the necessary sensations, and not the words. Similarly, commands 
given sharply and angrily usually produce quicker results than the 
same commands uttered tonelessly. The quality of the voice itself, 
that is to say, has a power of expressing feelings that is almost 
independent of the symbols used. We can say, “I hope you’ll come 
to see us again,” in a way that clearly indicates that we hope the 
visitor never comes back. Or again, if a young lady with whom 
we are strolling says, “The moon is bright tonight,” we are able 
to tell by the tone whether she is making a meteorological observa- 
tion or indicating that she wants to be kissed. t 

Very small infants understand the love, the warmth, or the irrita- 
tion in a mother’s voice long before they are able to understand 
her words. Most children retain this sensitivity to presymbolic factors 
in language. Some adults retain and refine this sensitivity as they 
grow older; they are the people credited with “intuition” or “un- 
usual tact ” Their talent lies in their skill in interpreting tones of 
voice, facial expressions, and other symptoms of the internal condi- 



NOISES AS EXPRESSION 


7 * 

tion of the speaker: they listen not only to what is said, but to how 
it is said. On the other hand, people who have spent much of their 
lives in the study of written symbols (scientists, intellectuals, book- 
keepers) tend to be relatively deaf to everything but the surface 
sense of the words. If a lady wants a person of this kind to kiss her, 
she usually has to tell him so in so many words. 


Noise for Noise’s Sake 

Sometimes we talk simply for the sake of hearing ourselves talk; 
that is, for the same reason that we play golf or dance. The activity 
gives us a pleasant sense of being alive. Children prattling, adults 
singing in the bathtub, are alike enjoying the sound of their voices. 
Sometimes large groups make noises together, as in group singing, 
group recitation, or group chanting, for similar presymbolic reasons. 
In all this, the significance of the words used is almost completely 
irrelevant. We may, for example, chant the most lugubrious words 
about a desire to be carried back to a childhood home in old Vir- 
ginny, when in actuality we have never been there and haven t the 
slightest intention of going. 

What we call social conversation is again largely presymbolic in 
character. When we are at a tea or dinner party, for example, we 
all have to talk — about anything: the weather, the performance of 
the Chicago White Sox, Thomas Mann s latest book, or Ingrid 
Bergman’s last picture. It is typical of these conversations that, 
except among very good friends, few of the remarks made on these 
subjects are ever important enough to be worth making for their 
informative value. Nevertheless, it is regarded as rude to remain 
silent. Indeed, in such matters as greetings and farewells--- Good 
morning” — “Lovely day”— “And how’s your family these days? — 
“It was a pleasure meeting you” — “Do look us up the next time 
you’re in town”— it is regarded as a social error not to say these 
things even if we do not mean them. There are numberless daily 
situations in which we talk simply because it would be impolite 
not to. Every social group has its own form of this kind of talking 
“the art of conversation,” “small talk, or the mutual kidding t at 



y2 THE LANGUAGE OF SOCIAL COHESION 

Americans love so much* From these social practices it is possible 
to state, as a general principle, that the prevention of silence is 
itself an important function of speech, and that it is completely 
impossible for us in society to talk only when we “have something 
to say.” 

This presymbolic talk for talk’s sake is, like the cries of animals, a 
form of activity. We talk together about nothing at all and thereby 
establish friendships. The purpose of the talk is not the communica- 
tion of information, as the symbols used would seem to imply (“I 
see the Dodgers are out in the lead again”), but the establishment 
of communion. Human beings have many ways of establishing com- 
munion among themselves : breaking bread together, playing games 
together, working together. But talking together is the most easily 
arranged of all these forms of collective activity. The togetherness 
of the talking, then, is the most important element in social con- 
versation; the subject matter is only secondary. 

There is a principle at work, therefore, in the selection of sub- 
ject matter. Since the purpose of this kind of talk is the establish- 
ment of communion, we are careful to select subjects about which 
agreement is immediately possible . Consider, for example, what 
happens when two strangers feel the necessity or the desire to talk 
to each other: 

“Nice day, isn’t it?” 

“It certainly is.” (Agreement on one point has been established. 
It is safe to proceed.) 

“Altogether, it’s been a fine summer ” 

“Indeed it has. We had a nice spring, too.” (Agreement on two 
points having been established, the second party invites agreement 
on a third point.) 

“Yes, it was a lovely spring.” (Third agreement reached ) 

The togetherness, therefore, is not merely in the talking itself, 
but in the opinions expressed. Having agreed on the weather, we 
go on to further agreements — that it is nice farming country around 
here, that it certainly is scandalous how prices are going up, that 
New York is certainly an interesting place to visit but it would 
be awful to have to live there, and so on. With each new agreement , 
no matter how commonplace or how obvious, the fear and sus- 



NOISE FOR NOISE’S SAKE 73 

picion of the stranger wears away , and the possibility of friendship 
enlarges . When further conversation reveals that we have friends 
or political views or artistic tastes or hobbies in common, a friend 
is made, and genuine communication and co-operation can begin. 


The Value of Unoriginal Remarks 

An incident in the writer’s own experience illustrates how neces- 
sary it sometimes is to give people the opportunity to agree. Early 
in 1942, a few weeks after the beginning of the war and at a time 
when rumors of Japanese spies were still widely current, he had to 
wait two or three hours in a small railroad station in a strange city. 
He became aware as time went on that the other people waiting in 
the station were staring at him suspiciously and feeling uneasy 
about his presence. One couple with a small child was staring with 
special uneasiness and whispering to each other. The writer there- 
fore took occasion to remark to the husband that it was too bad 
that the train should be late on so cold a night. He agreed. The 
writer went on to remark that it must be especially difficult to travel 
with a small child in winter when train schedules were so uncertain. 
Again the husband agreed. The writer then asked the child’s age 
and remarked that the child looked very big and strong for his age. 
Again agreement — this time with a slight smile. The tension was 
relaxing. 

After two or three more exchanges, the man asked, “I hope you 
don’t mind my bringing it up, but you’re Japanese, aren’t you? Do 
you think the Japs have any chance of winning this war?” 

“Well,” the writer replied, “your guess is as good as mine. I 
don’t kiaow any more than I read in the papers. (This was true.) 
But the way I figure it, I don’t see how the Japanese, with their lack 
of coal and steel and oil and their limited industrial capacity, can 
ever beat a powerfully industrialized nation like the United States. 

The writer’s remark was admittedly neither original nor well- 
informed. Hundreds of radio commentators and editorial writers 
were saying exactly the same thing during those weeks. But be- 
cause they were, the remark sounded familiar and was on the right 



74 THE LANGUAGE OF SOCIAL COHESION 

side, so that it was easy to agree with. The man agreed at once, 
with what seemed like genuine relief. How much the wall of sus- 
picion had broken down was indicated in his next question, “Say, 
I hope your folks aren’t over there while the war is going on.” 

“Yes, they are. My father and mother and two young sisters are 
over there.” 

“Do you ever hear from them?” 

“How can I?” 

“Do you mean you won’t be able to see them or hear from them 
till after the war is over?” Both he and his wife looked troubled 
and sympathetic. 

There was more to the conversation, but the result was that 
within ten minutes after it had begun they had invited the writer 
to visit them in their city and have dinner with them in their home. 
And the other people in the station, seeing the writer in conversa- 
tion with people who didn't look suspicious, ceased to pay any atten- 
tion to him and went back to reading their papers and staring at 
the ceiling . 1 


Maintenance of Communication Lines 

Such presymbolic uses of language not only establish new lines 
of communicadon, but keep old lines open. Old friends like to 
talk even when they have nothing especially to say to each other. 
In the same way that long-distance telephone operators, ship radio 
officers, and army signal corps outposts chatter with each other even 
when there are no official messages to communicate, so do people 
who live in the same household or work in the same office continue 
to talk to each other even when there is nothing much to*Gay. The 
purpose in both cases seems to be partly to relieve tedium, but 
partly, and more importantly, to keep the lines of communication 
open. 

1 Perhaps it should be added that the writer was by no means consciously apply- 
ing the principles of this chapter during the incident. This account is the result of 
later reflection. He was simply groping, as anyone else might do, for a way to 
relieve his own loneliness and discomfort in the situation. 



MAINTENANCE of communication lines 75 
Hence the situation between many a married couple: 
wife: Wilbur, why don’t you talk to me? 

husband (interrupted in his reading of Schopenhauer or The Racing 
Form): What’s that? 
wife: Why don’t you talk to me? 
husband: But there isn’t anything to say. 
wife: You don’t love me. 

husband (thoroughly interrupted, and somewhat annoyed): Oh, don’t 
be silly. You know I do. (Suddenly consumed by a passion for logic.) 
Do I run around with other women? Don’t I turn my paycheck over 
to you? Don’t I work my head off for you and the kids? 

wife (way out on a logical limb, but still not satisfied): But still I 
wish you’d say something. 
husband: Why? 
wife: Well, because. 

Of course, in a way the husband is right. His actions are an 
extensional demonstration of his love. They speak louder than 
words. But, in a different way, the wife is right. How does one 
know that the lines of communication are still open unless one 
keeps them at work? When a radio engineer says into a microphone, 
“One . . . two . . . three . . . four . . . testing . . he isn’t say- 
ing any tiling much. But it is nevertheless important at times that 
he say it. 


Presymbolic Language in Ritual 

Sermons, political caucuses, conventions, “pep rallies,” and other 
ceremonial gatherings illustrate the fact that all groups — religious, 
political, ^patriotic, scientific, and occupational — like to gather to- 
gether at intervals for the purpose of sharing certain accustomed 
activities, wearing special costumes (vestments in religious organ- 
izations, regalia in lodges, uniforms in patriotic societies, and so on),' 4 
eating together (banquets) , displaying the flags, ribbons, or emblems 
of their group, and marching in processions. Among these ritual 
activities is always included a number of speeches, either tradition- 
ally worded or specially composed for the occasion, whose principal 



yb THE LANGUAGE OF SOCIAL COHESION 

function is not to give the audience information it did not have 
before, not to create new ways of feeling, but something else alto- 
gether. 

What this something else is, we shall analyze more fully in 
Chapter 7 on “The Language of Social Control.” We can analyze 
now, however, one aspect of language as it appears in ritual speeches. 
Let us look at what happens at a “pep rally” such as precedes col- 
lege football games. The members of “our team” are “introduced” 
to a crowd that already knows them. Called upon to make speeches, 
the players mutter a few incoherent and often ungrammatical re- 
marks, which are received with wild applause. The leaders of the 
rally make fantastic promises about the mayhem to be performed on 
the opposing team the next day. The crowd utters “cheers,” which 
normally consist of animalistic noises arranged in extremely primi- 
tive rhythms. No one comes out any wiser or better informed than 
he was before he went in . 

To some extent religious ceremonies are equally puzzling at first 
glance. The priest or clergyman in charge utters set speeches, often 
in a language incomprehensible to the congregation (Hebrew in 
orthodox Jewish synagogues, Latin in the Roman Catholic Church, 
Sanskrit in Chinese and Japanese temples), with the result that, as 
often as not, no information whatsoever is communicated to those 
present. 

If we approach these linguistic events from a detached point of 
view, and if also we examine our own reactions when we enter into 
the spirit of such occasions, we cannot help observing that, whatever 
the words used in ritual utterance may signify, we often do not 
think very much about their signification during the course of the 
ritual. Most of us, for example, have often repeated the Lord’s 
Prayer or sung “The Star-Spangled Banner” without thinly, ng about 
the words at all. As children we are taught to repeat such sets of 
words before we can understand them, and many of us continue to 
say them for the rest of our lives without bothering about their 
signification. Only the superficial, however, will dismiss these facts 
as “simply showing what fools human beings are.” We cannot re- 
gard such utterances as “meaningless,” because they have a genuine 
effect upon us. We may come out of church, for example, with no 



PRESYMBOLIC LANGUAGE IN RITUAL JJ 

clear memory of what the sermon was about, but with a sense never- 
theless that the service has somehow “done us good.” 

What is the “good” that is done us in ritual utterances? It is the 
reaffirmation of social cohesion ; the Christian feels closer to his 
fellow-Christians, the Elk feels more united with his brother Elks, 
the American feels more American and the Frenchman more 
French, as the result of these rituals. Societies are held together by 
such bonds of common reactions to sets of linguistic stimuli. 

Ritualistic utterances, therefore, whether made up of words that 
have symbolic significance at other times, of words in foreign or 
obsolete tongues, or of meaningless syllables, may be regarded as 
consisting in large part of presymbolic uses of language: that is, 
accustomed sets of noises which convey no information, but to 
which feelings (often group feelings) are attached. Such utterances 
rarely make sense to anyone not a member of the group. The abra- 
cadabra of a lodge meeting is absurd to anyone not a member of 
the lodge. When language becomes ritual, that is to say, its effect 
becomes to a considerable extent independent of whatever signifi- 
cations the words once possessed. 


Advice to the Literal-Minded 

Presymbolic uses of language have this characteristic in common: 
their functions can be performed, if necessary, without the use of 
grammatically and syntactically articulated symbolic words. They 
can even be performed without recognizable speech at all. Group 
feeling may be established, for example, among animals by collec- 
tive barking or howling, and among human beings by college 
cheers, immunity singing, and such collective noise-making activi- 
ties. Indications of friendliness such as we give when we say “Good 
morning” or “Nice day, isn’t it?” can be given by smiles, gestures, 
or, as among animals, by nuzzling or sniffing. Frowning, laughing, 
smiling, jumping up and down, can satisfy a large number of needs 
for expression, without the use of verbal symbols. But the use of 
verbal symbols is more customary among human beings, so that 



78 THE LANGUAGE OF SOCIAL COHESION 

instead of expressing our feelings by knocking a man down, we 
often verbally blast him to perdition; instead of forming social 
groups by huddling together like puppies, we write constitutions 
and bylaws and invent rituals for the vocal expression of our 
cohesion. 

To understand the presymbolic elements that enter into our 
everyday language is extremely important. We cannot restrict our 
speech to the giving and asking of factual information; we cannot 
confine ourselves strictly to statements that are literally true, or we 
should often be unable to say even “Pleased to meet you” when 
the occasion demanded. The intellectually persnickety often tell us 
that we ought to “say what we mean” and “mean what we say,” 
and “talk only when we have something to talk about.” These are, 
of course, impossible prescriptions. 

Ignorance of the existence of these presymbolic uses of language 
is not so common among uneducated people (who often perceive 
such things intuitively) as it is among the educated. The educated 
often listen to the chatter at teas and receptions and conclude from 
the triviality of the conversation that all the guests (except them- 
selves) are fools. They may discover that people often come away 
from church services without any clear memory of the sermon and 
conclude that churchgoers are either fools or hypocrites. They may 
hear political oratory and wonder “how anybody can believe such 
rot,” and sometimes conclude therefrom that people in general are 
so unintelligent that it would be impossible for democracy to be 
made to work. Almost all such gloomy conclusions about the 
stupidity or hypocrisy of our friends and neighbors are unjustifiable 
on such evidence, because they usually come from applying the 
standards of symbolic language to linguistic events that are either 
partly or wholly presymbolic in character. r 

One further illustration may make this clearer. Let us suppose 
that we are on the roadside struggling with a flat tire. A not-very- 
bright-Iooking but friendly youth comes up and asks, “Got a flat 
tire?” If we insist upon interpreting his words literally, we will 
regard this as an extremely silly question and our answer may be, 
“Can’t you see I have, you dumb ox?” If we pay no attention to 
what the words say, however, and understand his meaning, we 



ADVICE TO THE LITERAL-MINDED 79 

will return his gesture o£ friendly interest by showing equal friend- 
liness, and in a short while he may be helping us to change the 
tire . 2 In a similar way, many situations in life as well as in literature 
demand that we pay no attention to what the words say, since the 
meaning may often be a great deal more intelligent and intelligible 
than the surface sense of the words themselves. It is probable that 
a great deal of our pessimism about the world, about humanity, and 
about democracy may be due in part to the fact that unconsciously 
we apply the standards of symbolic language to presymbolic utter- 
ances. 


Applications 

I. Try, with a group of friends, the following game. Set aside, during 
an afternoon gathering or an evening party, a period during which 
the rules are that" no one is permitted to say anything except the word 
“Urglu” (to be uttered with any variations of pitch or tone necessary 
to convey different meanings) and that anyone using ordinary language 
during that period is to be fined. Notice what can and cannot be 
communicated by the use of such a single nonsense-word, accompanied 
by whatever gestures or facial expressions seem necessary. (Incidental 
query: Why is it that party-games, although often interesting when 
played, sound so silly when described ? ) 

II. At the next meeting of a club or committee where group discus- 
sion is expected, notice the occasions when presymbolic language is 
used. At what points of the meeting does it seem to help the group 
along? Are there times when it seems to stall the meeting? 

2 Dr. Karl Menninger, in hove Against Hate (Allen & Unwin, 1042), comments 
on this passage and offers the following translation of “Got a Hat tire in terms 
of its psychological meaning: “Hello — I see you are in trouble. I’m a stranger to 
you but I might be your friend now that 1 have a chance to be if I had any 
assurance that my friendship would be welcomed. Are you approachable? Are you a 
decent fellow? Would you appreciate it if I helped you? I would like to do so 
hut I don’t want to be rebuffed. This is what my voice sounds like. What does 
your voice sound like?” Why does not the youth simply say directly, “I would be 
glad to help you”? Dr. Menninger explains: “But people are too timid and mutually 
distrustful to be so direct. They want to hear one another's voices . People need 
assurance that others are just li\e themselves ” (Italics added.) 



80 THE LANGUAGE OF SOCIAL COHESION 

Or observe the ways in which an effective chairman at a banquet, 
an orator at a Farm Bureau or Grange picnic, or a popular master of 
ceremonies at a night club operates. Don’t be too “objective” about this 
sort of exercise — don’t sit there deadpan and detached, like an ethnologist 
from a different civilization taking notes on native customs. Enter 
rather into the spirit of the occasion, observing your own reactions as 
well as the reactions of others to the meaningfully meaningless utter- 
ances that are made. The detached approach may be taken on the fol- 
lowing day, when you are writing down your observations, with the 
speeches, the audience reactions, and your own reactions as objects of 
study. 

HI. Keep track some day of the number of times a meeting of friends 
is begun with remarks about the weather. Why does the weather make 
such an easy opening? Is it true that women are more likely than men 
to greet each other with complimentary remarks about each other’s 
appearance — “What a lovely new hat!” “Where did you get that brace- 
let?” “How well you look in that coat.” Query: Do men have special 
patterns of their own in greeting other men? 

It is the writer’s impression that small children usually have not de- 
veloped these presymbolic means of getting rapport with others. Ob- 
serve with special care how children and adults who are strangers to 
each other get conversation started, if at all. 

IV. Note the differences in forms of presymbolic usage in different 
classes of society, in different ethnic groups, in different countries. If 
the reader is well acquainted with more than one social class, or more 
than one nationality group, he might compare and contrast the different 
usages among the groups with which he is familiar. In the United States, 
there appear to the writer to be marked differences in the style and 
amount of presymbolic discourse between the general American middle- 
class culture and the cultures of immigrant groups who retain some of 
their Old World habits (Scandinavian farmers of the Midwest, Penn- 
sylvania Dutch, Jews of the New York garment district, Italians, Poles, 
Germans of the Chicago northwest side, and so forth). There are also 
occupational and class differences: social usages among theatrical people, 
truckdrivers, women’s clubs, artists and writers in urban Bohemias, and 
naval officers provide some sharp contrasts. An especially graceful cere- 
moniousness is to be found often in gatherings of American lower 
middle-class Negroes. 



APPLICATIONS 


•8l 

V* Try to live a whole day without any presymbolic uses of language, 
restricting yourself solely to (a) specific statements of fact which con- 
tribute to the hearer’s information; (b) specific requests for needed in- 
formation or services. This exercise is recommended only to those whose 
devotion to science and the experimental method is greater than their 
desire to keep their friends. 



6. The Double Task 
of Language 


Tens of thousands of years have elapsed since we shed our tails, 
but we are still communicating with a medium developed to 
meet the needs of arboreal man. . . . We may smile at the 
linguistic illusions of primitive man, but may we forget that the 
verbal machinery on which we so readily rely, and with which 
our metaphysicians still profess to probe the Nature of Existence, 
was set up by him, and may be responsible for other illusions 
hardly less gross and not more easily eradicable? 

OGDEN AND RICHARDS 


Connotations 

Report language, as we have seen, is instrumental in character— 
that is, instrumental in getting work done; but, as we have seen, 
language is also used for the direct expression of the feelings of the 
speaker. Considering language from the point of view of the hearer , 
we can say that report language informs us but that these expressive 
uses of language (for example, judgments and what we have called 
presymbolic functions) affect us— that is, affect our feelings. When 
language is affective, it has the character of a kind of force . 1 A 
spoken insult, for example, provokes a return insult, just as a blow 
provokes a return blow; a loud and peremptory commancj .compels, 

x Such terms as “emotional” and “emotive” which imply misleading distinctions 
between the “emotional appeals” and “intellectual appeals” of language, should be 
carefully avoided. In any case, “emotional” applies too spedfica’ly to strong feelings. 
The word “affective,” however, in such an expression as the “affective uses of 
language,” describes not only the way in which language can arouse strong feelings, 
but also the way in which it arouses extremely subtle, sometimes unconscious, re- 
sponses. “Affective” has the further advantage of introducing no inconvenient dis- 
tinctions between “physical” and “mental” responses. 



CONNOTATIONS 


83 

just as a push compels; talking and shouting are as much a display 
of energy as the pounding of the chest. And the first of the affective 
elements in speech, as we have seen, is the tone of voice, its loudness 
or softness, its pleasantness or unpleasantness, its variations during 
the course of the utterance in volume and intonation. 

Another affective element in language is rhythm. Rhythm is the 
name we give to the effect produced by the repetition of auditory 
(or kinesthetic) stimuli at fairly regular intervals. From the boom- 
boom of a childish drum to the subtle nuances of cultivated poetry 
and music, there is a continuous development and refinement of 
man’s responsiveness to rhythm. To produce rhythm is to arouse 
attention and interest; so affective is rhythm, indeed, that it catches 
our attention even when we do not want our attention distracted. 
Rhyme and alliteration are, of course, ways of emphasizing rhythm 
in language, through repetition of similar sounds at regular inter- 
vals. Political-slogan writers and advertisers therefore have a special 
fondness for rhyme* and alliteration: “Tippecanoe and Tyler Too,” 
“Rum, Romanism, and Rebellion,” “Keep Cool with Coolidge,” 
“Order from Horder,” “Better Buy Buick” — totally absurd slogans 
so far as informative value is concerned, but by virtue of their 
sound capable of setting up small rhythmic echoes in one’s head 
that make such phrases annoyingly difficult to forget. 

In addition to tone of voice and rhythm, another extremely im- 
portant affective element in language is the aura of feelings, pleas- 
ant or unpleasant, that surrounds practically all words. It will be 
recalled that in Chapter 4, a distinction was made between denota- 
tions (or extensional meaning) pointing to things, and connotations 
(or intensional meaning) “ideas,” “notions,” “concepts,” and feel- 
ings suggested in the mind. These connotations can be divided into 
two kinjj^, the informative and the affective. 


Informative Connotations 

The informative connotations of a word are its socially agreed 
upon, “impersonal” meanings, insofar as meanings can be given at 
all by additional words. For example, if we talk about a “pig,” we 



THE DOUBLE TASK OF LANGUAGE 

cannot readily give the extensional meaning (denotation) of the 
word unless there happens to be an actual pig around for us to 
point at; but we can give the informative connotations: “mammalian 
domestic quadruped of the kind generally raised by farmers to be 
made into pork, bacon, ham, lard . . — which are connotations 

upon which everybody can agree. Sometimes, however, the informa- 
tive connotations of words used in everyday life differ so much from 
place to place and from individual to individual that a special sub- 
stitute terminology with more fixed informative connotations has 
to be used when special accuracy is desired. The scientific names 
for plants and animals are an example of terminology with such 
carefully established informative connotations. 


Affective Connotations 

The affective connotations of a word, on the other hand, are the 
aura of personal feelings it arouses, as, for example, “pig”: “Ugh! 
Dirty, evil-smelling creatures, wallowing in filthy sties,” and so on. 
While there is no necessary agreement about these feelings — some 
people like pigs and others don’t — it is the existence of these feelings 
that enables us to use words, under certain circumstances, for their 
affective connotations alone, without regard to their informative 
connotations. That is to say, when we are strongly moved, we ex- 
press our feelings by uttering words with the affective connotations 
appropriate to our feelings, without paying any attention to the 
informative connotations they may have. We angrily call people 
“reptiles,” “wolves,” “old bears,” “skunks,” or lovingly call them 
“honey,” “sugar,” “duck,” and “apple dumpling.” Indeed, all verbal 
expressions of feeling make use to some extent of the affective con- 
notations of words. 

All words have, according to the uses to which they are put, some 
affective character. There are many words that exist more for their 
affective value than for their informative value; for example, we 
can refer to “that man” as “that gentleman,” “that individual,” 
“that person,” “that gent,” “that guy,” “that hombre,” “that bird,” 
or “that bozo” — and while the person referred to may be the same 



AFFECTIVE CONNOTATIONS 85 

in all these cases, each of these terms reveals a difference in our 
feelings toward him. Dealers in knickknacks frequently write “Gyfte 
Shoppe” over the door, hoping that such a spelling carries, even if 
their merchandise does not, the flavor of antiquity. Affective con- 
notations suggestive of England and Scotland are often sought in 
the choice of brand names for men’s suits and overcoats: “Glen- 
moor,” “Regent Park,” “Bond Street.” Sellers of perfume choose 
names for their products that suggest France — “Mon Desir,” “Indis- 
cret,” “Evening in Paris” — and expensive brands always come in 
“flacons,” never in bottles. Consider, too, the differences among the 
following expressions : 

I have the honor to inform Your Excellency ... 

This is to advise you . . . 

I should like to tell you, sir . . . 

I’m telling you, Mister . . . 

Cheez, boss, git a load of dis . . . 


The parallel columns below also illustrate how affective conno- 
tations can be changed while extensional meanings remain the same. 


Finest quality filet mignon. 

Cubs trounce Giants 5-3. 
McCormick Bill steam-rollered 
through Senate. 

She has her husband under her 
thumb. 

French armies in rapid retreat! 


The governor appeared to be 
gravely concerned and said that 
a statement would be issued in 
a few days after careful exam- 
ination of the facts. 


First-class piece of dead cow. 

Score: Cubs 5, Giants 3. 

Senate passes McCormick Bill over 
strong opposition. 

She is deeply interested in her 
husband’s affairs. 

The retirement of the French 
forces to previously prepared 
positions in the rear was accom- 
plished briskly and efficiently. 

The governor was on the spot. 


The story is told that, during die Boer War, the Boers were de- 
scribed in the British press as “sneaking and skulking behind rocks 
and bushes.” The British forces, when they finally learned from the 


D 



86 


THE DOUBLE TASK OF LANGUAGE 


Boers how to employ tactics suitable to veldt warfare, were de- 
scribed as “cleverly taking advantage of cover.” 


A Note on Verbal Taboo 

The affective connotations of some words provide obstacles, some- 
times serious obstacles, to communication. In some circles of so- 
ciety, for example, it is “impolite” to speak of eating. A maid 
answering the telephone has to say, “Mr. Jones is at dinner,” and 
not, “Mr. Jones is eating dinner.” The same hesitation about re- 
ferring too baldly to eating is shown in the economical use made 
of the French and Japanese words meaning “to eat,” manger and 
taberu ; a similar delicacy exists in many other languages. Again, 
when creditors send bills, they practically never mention “money,” 
although that is what they are writing about. There are all sorts of 
circumlocutions: “We would appreciate your early attention to this 
matter.” “May we look forward to an immediate remittance?” 
Furthermore, we ask movie ushers and filling-station attendants 
where the “lounge” or “rest room” is, although we usually have 
no intention of lounging or resting; indeed, it is impossible in polite 
society to state, without having to resort to a medical vocabulary, 
what a “rest room” is for. The word “dead” likewise is used as 
little as possible by many people, who substitute such expressions as 
“gone west,” “passed away,” “gone to his reward,” and “departed.” 
In every language there is a long list of such carefully avoided words 
whose affective connotations are so unpleasant or so undesirable 
that people cannot say them, even when they are needed. 

Words having to do with physiology and sex — and words even 
vaguely suggesting physiological and sexual matters — have, espe- 
cially in American culture, remarkable affective connotations. Ladies 
of the last century could not bring themselves to say “breast” or 
“leg” — not even of chicken — so that the terms “white meat” and 
“dark meat” were substituted. It was thought inelegant to speak 
of “going to bed,” and “to retire” was used instead. In rural America 
there are many euphemisms for the word “bull”; among them are 
“he cow,” “cow critter,” “male cow,” “gentleman cow ” There are 



ANOTEONVERBALTABOO 87 

numerous and complicated verbal taboos in radio. Scientists and 
physicians asked to speak on the radio have been known to cancel 
their speeches in despair when they discovered that ordinary physio- 
logical terms, such as “stomach” and “bowels,” are forbidden on 
some stations. Indeed, there are some words, well known to all o£ 
us, whose affective connotations are so powerful that if they were 
printed here, even for the purposes of scientific analysis, this book 
would be excluded from all public schools and libraries, and any- 
one placing a copy of it in the United States mails would be subject 
to Federal prosecution! 

For reasons such as these, the first steps in sex education, whether 
among adults or in schools, are usually entirely linguistic. To most 
of the general public, the nontechnical vocabulary of sex is unusable 
and the technical vocabulary is unknown. Hence, prior to instruc- 
tion, an affectively neutral vocabulary of sex has to be established. 

The stronger verbal taboos have, however, a genuine social value. 
When we are extremely angry and we feel the need of expressing 
our anger in violence, the uttering of these forbidden words provides 
us with a relatively harmless verbal substitute for going berserk 
and smashing furniture; that is, they act as a kind of safety valve 
in our moments of crisis. 

Why some words should have such powerful affective connota- 
tions while others with the same informative connotations should 
not is difficult to explain fully. Some of our verbal taboos, especially 
the religious ones, obviously originate in our earlier belief in word- 
magic; the names of gods, for example, were often regarded as too 
holy to be spoken. But all taboos cannot be explained in terms of 
word-magic. According to some psychologists, our verbal taboos on 
sex and physiology are probably due to the fact that we all have 
certain *jLCelings of which we are so ashamed that we do not like to 
admit even to ourselves that we have them. We therefore resent 
words which remind us of those feelings, and get angry at the 
utterer of such words. Such an explanation would confirm the 
fairly common observation that some of the fanatics who object most 
strenuously to “dirty” books and plays do so not because their minds 
are especially pure, but because they are especially morbid. 



88 


THE DOUBLE TASK OF LANGUAGE 


Race and Words 

The fact that some words arouse both informative and affective 
connotations simultaneously gives a special complexity to discus- 
sions involving religious, racial, national, and political groups. To 
many people, the word “communist” means simultaneously “one 
who believes in communism” (informative connotations) and “one 
who ought to be thrown in jail, run out of the country . . .” (affec- 
tive connotations). Words applying to occupations of which one 
disapproves (“pickpocket,” “racketeer”), like those applying to be- 
lievers in philosophies of which one may disapprove (“atheist,” 
“heretic,” “Trotskyite,” “Holy Roller”), likewise often communi- 
cate simultaneously a fact and a judgment on the fact. 

In the western and southwestern parts of the United States, there 
are strong prejudices against Mexicans, both immigrant and Ameri- 
can-born. The strength of this prejudice is indirectly revealed by 
the fact that polite people and newspapers have stopped using the 
word “Mexican” altogether, using the expression “Spanish-speaking 
person” instead. “Mexican” has been used with contemptuous con- 
notations for so long that it has become, in the opinion of many 
people in the region, unsuitable for polite conversation. In some 
circles, the word is reserved for lower-class Mexicans, while the 
“politer” term is used for the upper class. 

On subjects about which strong prejudices exist, we are compelled 
to talk in roundabout terms if we wish to avoid arousing the 
prejudices. Hence we have not only such terms as “Spanish-speaking 
persons,” but also, in other contexts, “asocial types” instead of 
“criminals,” “juvenile delinquents” and “problem children” instead 
of “little criminals,” “segregees ” 2 instead of “disloyal Japo,” “ex- 
ceptional (or atypical) children” instead of “backward (or stupid) 
kids,” and so on. 

2 This term was used for Japanesc-Americans who were “segregated” in Tule 
Lake Camp (California) during World War II. In addition to the avowed Japanese 
sympathizers, these included persons who had asked to be returned to Japan after 
the war (often for family reasons), those who felt disillusioned with America as a 
result of wartime experiences, and the minor children of all these groups. 



RACE AND WORDS 89 

These verbal stratagems are necessitated by the existence of strong 
affective connotations as well as by the often misleading implica- 
tions of their blunter alternatives; they are not merely a matter of 
giving things fancy names in order to fool people, as the simple- 
minded often believe. Because the old names are “loaded,” they 
dictate traditional patterns of behavior towards those to whom they 
are applied. When everybody “knew” what to do about “little 
criminals,” they threw them in jail. Once in jail, “little criminals” 
showed a marked tendency to grow up into big criminals. When 
thoughtful people began to observe such facts, they started thinking 
out the problem all over again, using such terms as “juvenile de- 
linquents” this time. It is significant that most people do not know 
for sure what to do about “juvenile delinquents.” This is a hopeful 
sign. It may mean that they will continue to think until they reach 
better solutions than traditional moral indignation about “little 
criminals” has supplied. Similarly, it is possible that many who had 
dismissed Mexicans as “just Mexicans” may begin to think twice 
about their reactions when they are compelled by social usage to 
call them “Spanish-speaking Americans.” 

The meaning of words, as we have observed, changes from 
speaker to speaker and from context to context. In the case of 
“Japs” and “niggers,” these words, although often used both as a 
designation and an insult, are sometimes used with no intent to 
offend. In some classes of society and in some geographical areas, 
there are people who know no other words for Japanese, and in 
other areas there are people who know no other words for Negroes. 
Ignorance of regional and class differences of dialect often results 
in feelings needlessly hurt. Those who believe that the meaning of 
a word is in the word often fail to understand this simple point of 
differences in usage. For example, an elderly Japanese woman of 
the writer’s acquaintance living in Chicago, where the word “Jap” 
is often used simply to denote Japanese, always feels deeply insulted 
by the word, because in California, where she formerly lived, it was 
more often used with contemptuous connotations than not. She was 
therefore upset even by headlines over news stories praising the 
Japanese, such as “Jap- American War Heroes Return.” “They’re 



90 THE DOUBLE TASK OF LANGUAGE 

still calling us ‘Japs,’ ” she would say. “Whenever I hear that word 
I feel dirty all over.” 

The word “nigger” has a similar effect on most Negroes. A dis- 
tinguished Negro sociologist tells of an incident in his adolescence 
when he was hitchhiking far from home in regions where Negroes 
are hardly ever seen. He was befriended by an extremely kindly 
white couple who fed him and gave him a place to sleep in their 
home. However, they kept calling him “little nigger’V-a fact which 
upset him profoundly even while he was grateful for their kind- 
ness. He finally got up courage to ask the man not to call him by 
that “insulting term.” 

“Who’s insultin’ you, son?” said the man. 

“You are, sir — that name you’re always calling me.” 

“What name?” 

“Uh . . . you know.” 

“I ain’t callin’ you no names, son.” 

“I mean your calling me ‘nigger.’ ” 

“Well, what’s insultin’ about that? You are a nigger, ain’t you?” 

As the sociologist says now in telling the story, “I couldn’t think 
of an answer then, and I’m not sure I can now.” 

In case the sociologist reads this book, we are happy to provide 
him with an answer, although it may be twenty-five years late. 
He might have said to his benefactor, “Sir, in the part of the country 
I come from, white people who treat colored people with respect 
call them ‘Negroes,’ while those who wish to show their contempt 
of colored people call them ‘niggers.’ I hope the latter is not your 
intention.” And the man might have replied, had he been kindly 
in thought as he was in deed, “Well, you don’t say! Sorry I hurt 
your feelings, son, but I didn’t know.” And that would have been 
that. 

Negroes, having for a long time been victims of unfair persecu- 
tion because of race, are often even more sensitive about racial 
appellations than the Japanese woman previously mentioned. It need 
hardly be said that Negroes suffer from the confusion of informa- 
tive and affective connotations just as often as white people — or 
Japanese. Such Negroes, and those white sympathizers with the 
Negro cause who are equally naive in linguistic matters, tend to feel 



RACE AND WORDS 


9 * 

that the entire colored “race” is vilified whenever and wherever the 
word “nigger” occurs. They bristle even when it occurs in such 
expressions as “niggertoe” (the name of an herb; also a dialect 
term for Brazil nut), “niggerhead” (a type of chewing tobacco), 
“niggerfish” (a kind of fish found in West Indian and Floridan 
waters) — and even the word “niggardly” (of Scandinavian origin, 
unrelated, of course, to “Negro”) has to be avoided before some 
audiences. 

Such easily offended people sometimes send delegations to visit 
dictionary offices to demand that the word “nigger” be excluded 
from future editions, being unaware that dictionaries, as has already 
been said (Chapter 4), perform a historical, rather than legislative, 
function. (They will probably come to bother the publishers of this 
book, too.) To try to reduce racial discrimination by getting dic- 
tionaries to stop including the word “nigger” is like trying to cut 
down the birth rate by shutting down the office of the county register 
of births. When racial discrimination against Negroes is done away 
with, the word will either disappear or else lose its present connota- 
tions. By losing its present connotations, we mean (r) that people 
who need to insult their fellow men will have found more interest- 
ing grounds on which to base their insults, and (2) that people who 
are called “niggers” will no longer fly off the handle any more than 
a person from New England does at being called a “Yankee,” 

One other curious fact needs to be recorded concerning the words 
used regarding race, religion, political heresy, economic dissent, and 
other such hotly debated issues. Every reader is acquainted with 
certain people who, according to their own flattering descriptions 
of themselves, “believe in being frank” and like to “call a spade a 
spade.” By “calling a spade a spade” (the expression itself is a relic 
of the “right name” superstition discussed in Chapter 2), they usually 
mean calling anything or anyone by the term which has the strong- 
est and most disagreeable affective connotations. Why people should 
pin medals on themselves for “candor” for performing this nasty 
feat has often puzzled the writer. Sometimes it is necessary to vio- 
late verbal taboos as an aid to clearer thinking, but more often 
“calling a spade a spade” is to provide our minds with a greased 



92 THE DOUBLE TASK OF LANGUAGE 

runway down which we may slide back into old and discredited 
patterns of evaluation and behavior. 


Everyday Uses of Language 

The language of everyday life, then, differs from “reports” such 
as those discussed in Chapter 3. As in reports, we have to be accurate 
in choosing words that have the informative connotations we want; 
otherwise the reader or hearer will not know what we are talking 
about. But in addition, we have to give those words the affective 
connotations we want in order that he will be interested or moved 
by what we are saying, and feel towards things the way we do. 
This double task confronts us in almost all ordinary conversation, 
oratory, persuasive writing, and literature. Much of this task, how- 
ever, is performed intuitively; without being aware of it, we choose 
the tone of voice, the rhythms, and the affective connotations ap- 
propriate to our utterance. Over the informative connotations of 
our utterances we exercise somewhat more conscious control. Im- 
provement in our ability to understand language, as well as in our 
ability to use it, depends, therefore, not only upon sharpening our 
sense for the informative connotations of words, but also upon the 
sharpening of our insight into the affective elements in language 
through social experience, through contact with many \inds of 
people in many \inds of situations, and through literary study . 

The following, finally, are some of the things that can happen 
in any speech event: 

1. The informative connotations may be inadequate or mislead- 
ing, but the affective connotations may be sufficiently well directed 
so that we are able to interpret correctly. For example, when some- 
one says, “Imagine who I saw today! Old What’s-his-name — oh, 
you know who I mean— Whoosis, that old buzzard that lives on, 
oh— what’s the name of that street!” there are means, certainly not 
clearly informative, by which we manage to understand who is 
being referred to. 

2. The informative connotations may be correct enough and the 
extensional meanings clear, but the affective connotations may be 
inappropriate, misleading, or ludicrous. This happens frequently 



EVERYDAY USES OF LANGUAGE 


93 

when people try to write elegantly: “Jim ate so many bags of 
Arachis hypogaea, commonly known as peanuts, at the ball game 
today that he was unable to do justice to his evening repast.” 

3. Both informative and affective connotations may “sound all 
right,” but there may be no “territory” corresponding to the “map.” 
For example: “He lived for many years in the beautiful hill coun- 
try just south of Chicago.” There is no hill country just south of 
Chicago. 

4. Both informative and affective connotations may be used con- 
sciously to create “maps” of “territories” that do not exist. There are 
many reasons why we should wish on occasion to do so. Of these, 
only two need be mentioned now. First we may wish to give 
pleasure : 

Yet mark’d I where the bolt of Cupid fell: 

It fell upon a little western flower, 

Before milk-white, now purple with love’s wound. 

And maidens call it, Love-in-idleness. 

Fetch me that flower; the herb I show’d thee once: 

The juice of it on sleeping eyelids laid 
Will make or man or woman madly dote 
Upon the next live creature that it sees. 

— A Midsummer Night’s Dream 

A second reason is to enable us to plan for the future. For example, 
we can say, “Let us suppose there is a bridge at the foot of this 
street; then the heavy traffic on High Street would' be partly diverted 
over the new bridge; shopping would be less concentrated on High 
Street. . . .” Having visualized the condition that would result, 
we can recommend or oppose the bridge according to whether or 
not we like the probable results. The relationship of present words 
to futile events is a subject we must leave for the next chapter. 


Applications 

I. The relative absence of information and the deluge of affective 
connotations in advertising is notorious. Nevertheless, it is revealing to 
analyze closely specimens like the following, separating the informative 
connotations (those which convey verifiable information on which agree- 



94 THE DOUBLE TASK OF LANGUAGE 

ment can readily be reached) from the affective connotations (those 
which express attitudes and judgments open to differences of opinion) 
into two parallel columns for contrast: 

1. “You’ll enjoy different tomato juice made from aristocrat tomatoes.” 

— Advertisement 

SAMPLE ANALYSIS: 

Affective Connotations 
Because you have cultivated and dis- 
criminating tastes, you will prefer 
tomato juice made from superior, ex- 
clusive tomatoes to tomato juice made 
from common, ordinary tomatoes. A 
person with average tastes might not 
notice the difference but, since you 
appreciate the finer things of life, 
you will. 

2. “The kingdoms of Nature have released some of their mighty 
secrets to Madame Helena Rubinstein and her chemists, as she created 
her wondrous new extra-rich ‘Pasteurized’ Night Cream. Appropriate 
for the atomic age of stupendous discoveries by scientists, this new 
formula comprises the newest scientific ingredients cleverly precision- 
blended in balanced perfection. In addition to the chemical ingredients, 
fresh fruits and vegetables have yielded their beneficent properties in 
a new way for the fair skins of women. 

“One of the ingredients which Mme. Rubinstein discovered in the 
fruit kingdom acts as an emulsifier to make your skin absorb your night 
cream more quickly. This rarely used vegetable oil homogenizes with 
other ingredients to keep this cream always at its highest possible 
beautifying level. Imagine what this means to your complexion! 

“You realize how important penetration is in your night cream. 
Mme. Rubinstein has infused her new ‘Pasteurized’ Night Cream with 
special agents that induce the rich, balming emollients to penetrate 
more effectively. . . . This cleansing cream is the only one that tex- 
turizes as it cleanses, to awaken fresh new beauty on contact with your 
skin!” — Publicity release, quoted in The New Yorker 

3. “Because Wombat has so long since occupied a place entirely apart 
from other motor cars, the announcement of a new Wombat has be- 
come a significant automotive event. . . . But no Wombat announce- 
ment has ever been as significant as the one which appears on these 


Informative Connotations 
Tomato juice is made from 
tomatoes. 



APPLICATION S 


95 

pages. For, this year, Wombat presents its creative masterpiece — a wholly 
new V-type eight-cylinder engine — which is, beyond all doubt, the 
highest development yet attained in automotive power plants. . . . 
Drawing on the experience gained in thirty-five years of pioneering with 
V-type power, Wombat has produced a sensational engine — one 
eminently befitting the world’s foremost producer of fine motor cars. 
# . . This great power plant has been twelve years in the building — for 
basic development work started in 1936. It has many unusual qualities 
which set it apart from all other creations of its kind. It provides an 
amazing increase in power — yet affords an increase in gasoline economy 
of approximately twenty per cent. And the manner of its performance 
actually challenges the imagination. It is liquid smooth; it is quick and 
eager beyond all experience; yet the power application is so effortless 
that the driver is scarcely aware of the engine’s existence. The car 
seems almost to move by automatic propulsion. . . . Even experienced 
Wombat owners must put aside all previous conceptions of performance 
when they drive the 1949 Wombat, with this amazing new engine. It 
is a revelation — from silken start to silken stop. . . — Advertisement 

4. “Use Plenty of Genuine* Ice” 

* “ ‘Genuine’ ice is the pure, crystal-clear, taste-free, slow-melting, hard- 
frozen kind supplied exclusively by your local Ice Company. Cali on 
them for genuine ice for every cooling need.” 

— National Association of Ice Industries 

5. “Softly . . . softly . . . softly you move to the crib to make cer- 

tain that all is well with the most precious thing in your life, the most 
wonderful baby in all the world. Softly, too, the smooth Ocean Brand 
Sheets welcome you when you return to your own bed. And softly 
these Ocean Brand Sheets meet your budget requirements. For these 
are the famous Ocean Combed Percales, latest products of Ocean Brand 
craftsmanship.” — Advertisement 

6 . “Something new — Hooper’s feeding vitamins to tires. Hooper 
Vitamized Rubber puts you miles ahead. . . . Feeding a rubber vitamin 
to tires is one reason why Hoopers go on and on — delivering an extra 
dividend in money-saving mileage. The Hooper method of making 
Vitamized Rubber is your guarantee of an extra resilient, extra tough, 
extra long-wearing tire. See us today — see why you’ll be miles ahead 
with Hoopers. . . , Remember . . . quality comes first with Hooper.” 

— Advertisement 



96 THE DOUBLE TASK OF LANGUAGE 

IL Bertrand Russell, on a British Broadcasting Company radio pro 
gram called the Brains Trust, gave the following “conjugation” of an 
“irregular verb”: 

I am firm. 

You are obstinate. 

He is a pig-headed fool. 

The New Statesman and Nation , quoting the above as a model, offered 
prizes to readers who sent in the best “irregular verbs” of this kind. 
Here are some of the entries, as published in the June 5, 1948, issue: 

I am sparkling. You are unusually talkative. He is drunk. 

I am righteously indignant. You are annoyed. He is making a 
fuss about nothing. 

I am fastidious. You are fussy. He is an old woman. 

I am a creative writer. You have a journalistic flair. He is a pros- 
perous hack. 

I am beautiful. You have quite good features. She isn’t bad-look- 
ing, if you like that type. 

I day dream. You are an escapist. He ought to see a psychiatrist. 

I have about me something of the subtle, haunting, mysterious 
fragrance of the Orient. You rather overdo it, dear. She stinks. 
“Conjugate,” in a similar way, the following statements: 

1. I am slender. 

2. I am a trifle overweight. 

3. I don’t dance very well. 

4. Naturally I use a little make-up. 

5. I collect rare, old objects of art. 

6. I don’t like to play bridge with people who are too serious about it. 

7. I don’t claim to know all the answers. 

8. I believe in old-fashioned, laissez-faire liberalism. 

9. I need plenty of sleep. 

10. I’m just an old-fashioned girl. 

11. I don’t care much about theories; I’m the practical type. 

12. I believe in being frank. 

13. I rarely find time to read books. 

III. It is important to be able to sort out of any utterance the informa* 
tion given from the speaker’s feeling toward that information . In order 
to sharpen one’s perception in this respect, it is instructive sometimes 
to rewrite articles one reads, using the same information given in the 
original and reversing the judgments . For example, the following is a 



APPLICATIONS 


97 

review by Rolfe Humphries of a book , The Frieda Lawrence Collection 
of D. H. Lawrence Manuscripts: A Descriptive Bibliography , by E. W. 
Tedlock, Jr. (University of New Mexico Press, 1948), as published in 
The Nation, June 26, 1948: 

This is a remarkable bibliography. Not only does it examine, with 
the cool painstaking labor of scholarship, the 193 manuscripts in 
Mrs. Lawrences collection — and nine others thrown in for good 
measure — but also, it is informed with warmth, a growing sym- 
pathy, admiration, understanding of its subject, never forgetting 
that that subject was a man, never seeking to claim him as a 
literary property, as so often tends to be the case when scholars 
figure they have learned more facts about somebody than anybody 
else. There is enough material in Professor Tedlock’s book to 
fascinate those with an appetite for such items as that the paper 
measures eight and a half by ten and five-eighths inches, or that 
the pages are incorrectly numbered; there is also material for those 
who want to study how an artist improved, corrected, extended, 
his initial attempts; beyond all that, the book is interesting to any 
who care about Lawrence, so that, as Frieda Lawrence says in a 
brief foreword, the love and truth in him may rouse the love and 
truth in others. Professor Tedlock’s study is a valuable help, and 
readable. 

Now let us suppose for the purpose of our exercise the existence of a 
different reviewer, one who dislikes the works of Lawrence, dislikes 
those who admire Lawrence, and has a low opinion of painstaking 
literary scholarship. Such a reviewer, using the same facts, might write 
his review in somewhat the following way: 

This bibliography examines, with the appalling industriousness of 
the professional pedant, the 193 manuscripts in Mrs. Lawrence’s 
collection — and nine others thrown in for good measure. Professor 
Tedlock goes completely overboard for his subject. Like other 
worshipers at the Lawrence shrine, he is almost as much pre- 
occupied with Lawrence the man as with his works — so much so, 
indeed, that it is surprising he does not take Lawrence over as a 
literary property, as so often tends to be the case when scholars 
figure they have learned more facts about somebody than anybody 
else. There is enough material in Professor Tedlock’s book to 
fascinate those with an appetite for such items as that the paper 
measures eight and a half by ten and five-eighths inches, or that 



9*5 THE DOUBLE TASK OF LANGUAGE 

the pages are incorrectly numbered; there is also material for those 
who, not content with the study of finished works, want to pry 
into the processes by which an artist improved, corrected, and ex- 
tended his initial attempts; beyond all that, the book is interesting 
to any who, in this day and age, still insist on caring about Law- 
rence, so that what Frieda Lawrence calls, in a brief foreword, the 
“love” and “truth” in him may arouse a similar “love” and “truth” 
in others. To these followers of the Lawrence cult, Professor Ted- 
lock’s study is no doubt a valuable help. The style is readable. 

No criticism of Mr. Humphries’ review (or of Professor Tedlock’s 
book or of D. H. Lawrence) is implied, of course, by this “revision.” 
The task of the book reviewer is twofold: to report facts about the book 
under discussion and to express some of his feelings about the book 
and its subject. Mr. Humphries has, in a brief review, done something 
of both tasks — a good deal more of the former than the latter. 

However, a critical reader should be able to read either Mr. 
Humphries’ review or the “revision” above and derive the basic in- 
formation that both reviews convey: that Professor Tedlock’s book is 
painstakingly detailed in its examination of the Lawrence manuscripts, 
that it has a warm attitude toward Lawrence the man as well as to- 
ward his works, that it is likely to be useful to admirers of Lawrence, 
and so forth. In order to develop one’s capacity to get at such basic 
information regardless of how the author happens to feel about that 
information, it is suggested that the reader try “revisions” of this kind. 
Book reviews are especially interesting to revise in this way. Some 
reviewers will be found to say little about the book and a great deal 
about their own tastes. Others write almost pure news stories, with 
little expression of their own likes or dislikes. “Interpretive reporting” 
of the kind found in Time and in many signed news-features in large 
newspapers — stories that not only tell what happened but also com- 
municate an attitude toward the events or persons involved — is also 
interesting to revise in the manner suggested. 

Try revising the following item from Time magazine (January 24, 
1949), using the same basic information but with warm approval of 
Mr. Beck’s undertaking: 

Man of Peace 

Ever since he got around aging Dan Tobin and became the real 
ruler of the Teamsters Union, Seatde’s tough, pale-eyed Dave 
Beck has been remolding the A.FX.’s biggest labor group to suit 



APPLICATIONS 


99 

his fancy. Last week in Manhattan, Beck announced what he pro- 
posed to do with his juggernaut when he gets it weli-streamlined. 
He was going to start a coast-to-coast organizing roundup that 
would make other labor-recruiting drives look like ballet tryouts. 

Teamsters in ail United States cities will simultaneously set 
out to double the union’s membership from 1,000,000 to 
2,000,000. They will go after new members in the automotive 
trades, bakeries, the beverage industry, building and construc- 
tion, canneries, dairies, the taxicab and short-haul bus fields, 
general hauling, sales drivers, the produce field, warehouses 
and drive-away and truck-away enterprises. 

With the air of a man about to pluck a ripe plum. Beck also 
made a soft-voiced announcement of his plans for New York City. 
The teamsters, he said, would concentrate on department store 
warehousemen but would also claim jurisdiction over the big city’s 
brewery workers. 

Beck added blandly that he was a “man of peace” and had no 
desire to revert to the “law of the jungle.” He did not expect that 
other unions would “infringe on our jurisdiction.” But he said, 
“if a union that should stick to clerks tries to get our warehouse- 
men (a remark directed at the powerful C.I.O. Amalgamated 
Clothing Workers), we’ll step in and organize the whole store 
to protect ourselves.” 



7. The Language 
of Social Control 


The effect of a parade of sonorous phrases upon human conduct 
has never been adequately studied . 

THURMAN W. ARNOLD 


Making Things Happen 

The most interesting and perhaps least understood of the rela- 
tions between words and things is the relation between words and 
future events. When we say, for example, “Come here!” we are not 
describing the extensional world about us, nor are we merely ex- 
pressing our feelings; we are trying to ma\e something happen . 
What we call “commands,” “pleas,” “requests,” and “orders” are 
the simplest ways we have of making things happen by means of 
words. There are, however, more roundabout ways. When we say, 
for example, “Our candidate is a great American,” we are of course 
making an enthusiastic purr about him, but we may also be in- 
fluencing other people to vote for him. Again, when we say, “Our 
war against the enemy is Gods war. God wills that we must 
triumph,” we are saying something that is incapable of scientific 
verification; nevertheless, it may influence others to help in the 
prosecution of the war. Or if we merely state as a fact, “Milk con- 
tains vitamins,” we may be influencing others to buy milk v 

Consider, too, such a statement as “111 meet you tomorrow at 
two o’clock in front of the Palace Theater.” Such a statement about 
future events can only be made, it will be observed, in a system in 
which symbols are independent of things symbolized. The future, 
like the recorded past, is a specifically human dimension. To a dog, 
the expression “hamburger tomorrow” is meaningless — he will look 



MAKING THINGS HAPPEN IOI 

at you expectantly, hoping for the extensional meaning of the word 
“hamburger” to be produced now . Squirrels, to be sure, store food 
for “next winter,” but the fact that they store food regardless of 
whether or not their needs are adequately provided for demon- 
strates that such behavior (usually called “instinctive”) is governed 
neither by symbols nor by other interpreted stimuli. Human beings 
are unique in their ability to react meaningfully to such expressions 
as “next Saturday,” “on our next wedding anniversary,” “twenty 
years after date I promise to pay,” “some day, perhaps five hundred 
years from now.” That is to say, maps can be made, in spite of the 
fact that the territories they stand for are not yet an actuality. Guid- 
ing ourselves by means of such maps of territories-to-be, we can 
impose a certain predictability upon future events. 

With words, therefore, we influence and to an enormous extent 
control future events. It is for this reason that writers write; preach- 
ers preach; employers, parents, and teachers scold; propagandists 
send out news releases; statesmen give addresses. All of them, for 
various reasons, are trying to influence our conduct — sometimes for 
our good, sometimes for their own. These attempts to control, 
direct, or influence the future actions of fellow human beings with 
words may be termed directive uses of language. 

Now it is obvious that if directive language is going to direct, it 
cannot be dull or uninteresting. If it is to influence our conduct, it 
must make use of every affective element in language: dramatic 
variations in tone of voice, rhyme and rhythm, purring and snarling, 
words with strong affective connotations, endless repetition. If mean- 
ingless noises will move the audience, meaningless noises must be 
made; if facts move them, facts must be given; if noble ideals 
move them, we must make our proposals appear noble; if they will 
respond only to fear, we must scare them stiff. 

The nature of the affective means used in directive language is 
limited, of course, by the nature of our aims. If we are trying to 
direct people to be more kindly toward each other, we obviously 
do not want to arouse feelings of cruelty or hate. If we are trying 
to direct people to think and act more intelligently, we obviously 
should not use subrational appeals. If we are trying to direct people 
to lead better lives, we use affective appeals that arouse their finest 



102 THE LANGUAGE OF SOCIAL CONTROL 

feelings. Included among directive utterances, therefore, are many 
of the greatest and most treasured works of literature: the Christian 
and Buddhist scriptures, the writings of Confucius, Milton’s 
Areopagitica, and Lincoln’s Gettysburg Address. 

There are, however, occasions when it is felt that language is 
not sufficiently affective by itself to produce the results wanted. We 
supplement directive language, therefore, by nonverbal affective 
appeals of many kinds. We supplement the words “Come here” by 
gesturing with our hands. Advertisers are not content with saying 
in words how beautiful their products will make us; they supple- 
ment their words by the use of colored inks and by pictures. News- 
papers were not content with saying that the New Deal was a 
“menace”; they supplied political cartoons depicting New Dealers 
as criminally insane people placing sticks of dynamite under mag- 
nificent buildings labeled “American way of life.” The affective 
appeal of sermons and religious exhortations may be supplemented 
by costumes, incense, processions, choir music, and church bells. 
A political candidate seeking office reinforces his speech-making with 
a considerable array of nonverbal affective appeals: brass bands, 
flags, parades, picnics, barbecues, and free cigars . 1 

Now, if we want people to do certain things and are indifferent 

1 The following are excerpts from reports of the Republican National Convention 
of 1948: “There on the stage a gigantic photograph of the candidate, tinted some- 
what too vividly, gazed steadily out over the throngs. Around the balcony hung 
other photographs: the Dewey family playing with their Great Dane; the Deweys at 
the circus; Dewey on the farm. Dewey infantrymen passed out soft drinks and 
small favors to gawking visitors and gave every 200th visitor a door prize. William 
Horne, a Philadelphia bank employee, was clocked in as the 45,000th visitor and 
got a sterling silver carving aid.’* ( Time , July 5, 1948.) “Over loudspeakers of the 
Belle vue-Stratford came a constant stream of official exhortations against undue 
crowding at the entrance to the Dewey headquarters. The warnings were part of 
the game, but they were also justified. Why wouldn’t the Dewey headquarters be 
jammed when prizes — from chewing gum and pocket combs to silk lingerie and 
dresses — were being doled out with the largess of a radio quiz show? At one point 
the Dewey people even staged a fashion show, complete with eight bathing beauties. 
A bewildered foreign newspaperman asked a fellow-reporter, ‘How can I explain 
to France what this has to do with electing a President?’ . . . The Stassen managers 
appeared to be saving up their circus talent for Convention Hall, where it turned 
out to be considerable, ranging from an Indian chief in full regalia to a shapely girl 
in sailor pants who did a nautical rumba on the rostrum.” ( The Nation, July 3, 
1948.) 



MAKING THINGS HAPPEN 


103 

as to why they do them , then no affective appeals are excluded. 
Some political candidates want us to vote for them regardless of our 
reasons for doing so. Therefore, if we hate the rich, they will snarl 
at the rich for us; if we dislike strikers, they will snarl at the strik- 
ers; if we like clambakes, they will throw clambakes; if the majority 
of us like hillbilly music, they may say nothing about the problems 
of government, but travel among their constituencies with hillbilly 
bands. Again, many business firms want us to buy their products 
regardless of our reasons for doing so; therefore if delusions and 
fantasies will lead us to buy their products, they will seek to pro- 
duce delusions and fantasies; if we want to be popular with the 
other sex, they will promise us popularity; if we like pretty girls 
in bathing suits, they will associate pretty girls in bathing suits 
with their products, whether they are selling shaving cream, auto- 
mobiles, summer resorts, ice cream cones, house paint, or hardware. 
Only the law keeps them from presenting pretty girls without 
bathing suits. The records of the Federal Trade Commission, as 
well as the advertising pages of any big-circulation magazine, show 
that some advertisers will stop at practically nothing. 

The Promises of Directive Language 

Aside from the affective elements, verbal and nonverbal, accom- 
panying directive utterances that are intended simply to attract 
attention or to create pleasant sensations — that is, repetition, beauty 
of language, the pretty colors in advertisements, brass bands in 
political parades, girl pictures, and so on — practically all directive 
utterances say something about the future . They are “maps,” either 
explicitly or by implication, of <t territories ,, that are to be. They 
direct us to do certain things with the stated or implied promise 
that if we do these things, certain consequences will follow: “If you 
adhere to the Bill of Rights, your civil rights too will be protected.” 
“If you vote for me, I will have your taxes reduced.” “Live accord- 
ing to these religious principles, and you will have peace in your 
soul.” “Read this magazine, and you will keep up with important 
current events.” “Take Lewis's Licorice Liver Pills and enjoy that 



104 the language of social control 

glorious feeling that goes with regularity .” Needless to say, some 
of these promises are kept, and some are not. Indeed, we encounter 
promises daily that are obviously incapable of being kept. 

There is no sense in objecting as some people do to advertising 
and political propaganda — the only kind of directives they worry 
about — on the ground that they are based on “emotional appeals.” 
Unless directive language has affective power of some kind, it is 
useless. We do not object to campaigns that tell us, “Give to the 
Community Chest and enable poor children to enjoy better care,” 
although that is an “emotional appeal.” Nor do we resent being 
reminded of our love of home, friends, and nation when people 
issue moral or patriotic directives at us. The important question to 
be asked of any directive utterance is, “Will things happen as 
promised if I do as I am directed ? If I accept your philosophy, shall 
I achieve peace of mind? If I vote for you, will my taxes be reduced? 
If I use Lifeguard Soap, will my boy friend come back to me?” 

We rightly object to advertisers who make false or misleading 
claims and to politicians who ignore their promises, although it 
must be admitted that, in the case of politicians, they are sometimes 
compelled to make promises that later circumstances prevent them 
from keeping. Life being as uncertain and as unpredictable as it 
is, we are constantly trying to find out what is going to happen 
next, so that we may prepare ourselves. Directive utterances under- 
take to tell us how we can bring about certain desirable events and 
how we can avoid undesirable events. If we can rely upon what 
they tell us about the future, the uncertainties of life are reduced. 
When, however, directive utterances are of such a character that 
things do not happen as predicted — when, after we have done as we 
were told, the peace in the soul has not been found, the taxes have 
not been reduced, the boy friend has not returned, there is dis- 
appointment. Such disappointments may be trivial or grave; in any 
event, they are so common that we do not even bother to complain 
about some of them. They are all serious in their implications, never- 
theless. Each of them serves , in greater or less degree, to brea\ 
down that mutual trust that ma\es co-operation possible and \nits 
people together into a society . 

Every one of us, therefore, who utters directive language, with 



THE PROMISES OF DIRECTIVE LANGUAGE IO5 

its concomitant promises, stated or implied, is morally obliged to 
be as certain as he can, since there is no absolute certainty, that he 
is arousing no false expectations. Politicians promising the immedi- 
ate abolition of poverty, national advertisers suggesting that totter- 
ing marriages can be restored to bliss by a change in the brand 
of laundry soap used in the family, newspapers threatening the 
collapse of the nation if the party they favor is not elected — all such 
utterers of nonsense are, for the reasons stated, menaces to the 
social order. It does not matter much whether such misleading direc- 
tives are uttered in ignorance and error or with conscious intent to 
deceive, because the disappointments they cause are all similarly 
destructive of mutual trust among human beings. 


The Foundations of Society 

However, preaching, no matter how noble, and propaganda, no 
matter how persuasive, do not create society. We can, if we wish, 
ignore such directives. We come now to directive utterances that 
we cannot ignore if we wish to remain organized in our social 
groups. 

What we call society is a vast network of mutual agreements. We 
agree to refrain from murdering our fellow citizens, and they in 
turn agree to refrain from murdering us; we agree to drive on 
the right-hand side of the road, and others agree to do the same; 
we agree to deliver specified goods, and others agree to pay us for 
them; we agree to observe the rules of an organization, and the 
organization agrees to let us enjoy its privileges. This complicated 
network of agreements, into which almost every detail of our lives 
is woven and upon which most of our expectations in life are based, 
consists essentially of statements about future events which we are 
supposed, with our own efforts, to bring about . Without such agree- 
ments, there would be no such thing as society. All of us would be 
huddling in miserable and lonely caves, not daring to trust anyone. 
With such agreements, and a will on the part of the vast majority 
of people to live by them, behavior begins to fall into relatively 



I06 THE LANGUAGE OF SOCIAL CONTROL 


predictable patterns; co-operation becomes possible; peace and free- 
dom are established. 

Therefore, in order that we shall continue to exist as human 
beings, we must impose patterns of behavior on each other. We 
must make citizens conform to social and civic customs; we must 
make husbands dutiful to their wives; we must make soldiers cou- 
rageous, judges just, priests pious, and teachers solicitous for the 
welfare of their pupils. In early stages of culture the principal 
means of imposing patterns of behavior was, of course, physical 
coercion. But such control can also be exercised, as human beings 
must have discovered extremely early in history, by words — that is, 
by directive language. Therefore, directives about matters which 
society as a whole regards as essential to its own safety are made 
especially powerful, so that no individual in that society will fail 
to be impressed with a sense of his obligations. To make doubly 
sure, the words are further reinforced by the assurance that punish- 
ment, possibly including torture and death, will be visited upon 
those who fail to heed them. 


Directives with Collective Sanction 

These directive utterances with collective sanction, which try to 
impose patterns of behavior upon the individual in the interests of 
the whole group, are among the most interesting of linguistic events. 
Not only are they usually accompanied by ritual; they are usually 
the central purpose of ritual. There is probably no kind of utterance 
that we take more seriously, that affects our lives more deeply, that 
we quarrel about more bitterly. Constitutions of nations and of 
organizations, legal contracts, and oaths of office are utterances of 
this kind; in marriage vows, confirmation exercises, induction cere- 
monies, and initiations, they are the essential constituent. Those 
terrifying verbal jungles called laws are simply the systematization 
of such directives, accumulated and codified through the centuries. 
In its laws, society makes its mightiest collective effort to impose 
predictability upon human behavior. 



directives with collective sanction 107 

Directive utterances made under collective sanction may exhibit 
any or all of the following features: 

x. Such language is almost always phrased in words that have 
affective connotations, so that people will be appropriately impressed 
and awed. Archaic and obsolete vocabulary or stilted phraseology 
quite unlike the language of everyday life is employed. For exam- 
ple: “Wilt thou, John, take this woman for thy lawful wedded 
wife?” “This lease, made this tenth day of July, a.d. One Thou- 
sand Nine Hundred and Forty-nine, between Samuel Smith, here- 
inafter called the Lessor, and Jeremiah Johnson, hereinafter called 
Lessee, witnesseth, that Lessor, in consideration of covenants and 
agreements hereinafter contained and made on the part of the 
Lessee, hereby leases to Lessee for a private dwelling, the premises 
known and described as follows, to wit . . 

2. Such directive utterances are often accompanied by appeals 
to supernatural powers, who are called upon to help us carry out the 
vows, or to punish us if we fail to carry them out. An oath, for 
example, ends with the words, “So help me God.” Prayers, incanta- 
tions, and invocations accompany the utterance of important vows 
in practically all cultures, from the most primitive to the most 
civilized. These further serve, of course, to impress our vows on 
our minds. 

3. If God does not punish us for failing to carry out our agree- 
ments, it is made clear either by statement or implication that our 
fellow men will. For example, we all realize that we can be im- 
prisoned for desertion, nonsupport, or bigamy; sued for “breach 
of contract”; “unfrocked” for activities contrary to priestly vows; 
“cashiered’* for “conduct unbecoming an officer”; “impeached” for 
“betrayal of public trust”; hanged for “treason.” 

4. The formal and public utterance of the vows may be preceded 
by preliminary disciplines of various kinds: courses of training in 
die meaning of the vows one is undertaking; fasting and self- 
mortification, as before entering the priesthood; initiation cere- 
monies involving physical torture, as before being inducted into 
the warrior status among primitive peoples or membership in col- 
lege fraternities. 

5. The utterance of the directive language may be accompanied 



108 THE LANGUAGE OF SOCIAL CONTROL 

by other activities or gestures, all calculated to impress the occasion 
on the mind. For example, everybody in a courtroom stands up 
when a judge is about to open a court; huge processions and extraor- 
dinary costumes accompany coronation ceremonies; academic gowns 
are worn for commencement exercises; for many weddings, an 
organist and a soprano are procured and special clothes are worn. 

6. The uttering of the vows may be immediately followed by 
feasts, dancing, and other joyous manifestations. Again the purpose 
seems to be to reinforce still further the effect of the vows. For 
example, there are wedding parties and receptions, graduation 
dances, banquets for the induction of officers, and, even in the 
most modest social circles, some form of “celebration” when a mem- 
ber of the family enters into a compact with society. In primitive 
cultures, initiation ceremonies for chieftains may be followed by 
feasting and dancing that last for several days or weeks. 

7. In cases where the first utterance of the vows is not made a 
special ceremonial occasion, the effect on the memory is usually 
achieved by frequent repetition. The flag ritual (“I pledge allegiance 
to the flag of the United States . . .”) is repeated daily in some 
schools. Mottoes, which are briefly stated general directives, are re- 
peated frequently; sometimes they are stamped on dishes, some- 
times engraved on a warrior’s sword, sometimes inscribed in promi- 
nent places such as gates, walls, and doorways, where people can 
see them and be reminded of their duties. 

The common feature of all these activities that accompany direc- 
tive utterances, as well as of the affective elements in the language 
of directive utterances, is the deep effect they have on the memory. 
Every kind of sensory impression from the severe pain of initiation 
rites to the pleasures of banqueting, music, splendid clothing, and 
ornamental surroundings may be employed; every emotion from 
the fear of divine punishment to pride in being made the object of 
special public attention may be aroused. This is done in order that 
the individual who enters into his compact with society — that is, the 
individual who utters the “map” of the not-yet-existent “territory” 
— shall never forget to try to bring that “territory” into existence. 

For these reasons, such occasions as when a cadet receives his 
commission, when a Jewish boy has his bar mizvah , when a priest 



directives with collective sanction 109 

takes his vows, when a policeman receives his badge, when a foreign- 
born citizen is sworn in as a citizen of the United States, or when 
a president takes his oath of office — these are events one never 
forgets. Even if, later on, a person realizes that he has not fulfilled 
his vows, he cannot shake off the feeling that he should have done 
so. All of us, of course, use and respond to these ritual directives. 
The phrases and speeches to which we respond reveal our deepest 
religious, patriotic, social, professional, and political allegiances more 
accurately than do the citizenship papers or membership cards that 
we may carry in our pockets or the badges that we may wear on 
our coats. A man who has changed his religion after reaching adult- 
hood will, on hearing the ritual he was accustomed to hearing in 
childhood, often feel an urge to return to his earlier form of wor- 
ship. In such ways, then, do human beings use words to reach out 
into the future and control each other’s conduct. 

It should be remarked that many of our social directives and 
many of the rituals with which they are accompanied are antiquated 
and somewhat insulting to adult minds. Rituals that originated in 
times when people had to be scared into good behavior are un- 
necessary to people who already have a sense of social responsibility. 
For example, a five-minute marriage ceremony performed at the 
city hall for an adult, responsible couple may “take” much better 
than a full-dress church ceremony performed for an infantile couple. 
In spite of the fact that the strength of social directives obviously 
lies in the willingness, the maturity, and the intelligence of the 
people to whom the directives are addressed, there is still a wide- 
spread tendency to rely upon the efficacy of ceremonies as such. 
This tendency is due, of course, to a lingering belief in word-magic, 
the notion that, by saying things repeatedly or in specified cere- 
monial ways, we can cast a spell over the future and force events to 
turn out the way we said they would — “There’ll always be an Eng- 
land!” An interesting manifestation of this superstitious attitude 
towards words and rituals is to be found among some educators and 
some members of school boards who are faced with the problem of 
“educating students for democracy.” Instead of increasing the time 
allotted for the factual study of democratic institutions, enlarging 
the opportunities for the day-to-day exercise of democratic prac- 



IIO THE LANGUAGE OF SOCIAL CONTROL 

tices, and thereby trying to develop the political insight and maturity 
of their students, such educators content themselves by staging 
bigger and better flag-saluting ceremonies and trebling the occasions 
for singing “God Bless America.” If, because of such “educational” 
activities, the word “democracy” finally becomes a meaningless noise 
to some students, the result is hardly to be wondered at. 


What Are “Rights”? 

What, extensionally, is the meaning of the word “my” in such 
expressions as “my real estate,” “my book,” “my automobile”? 
Certainly the word “my” describes no characteristics of the objects 
named. A check changes hands and “your” automobile becomes 
“mine” but no change results in the automobile. What has changed? 

The change is, of course, in our social agreements covering our 
behavior toward the automobile. Formerly, when it was “yours,” 
you felt free to use it as you liked, while I did not. Now that it is 
“mine,” I use it freely and you may not. The meaning of “yours” 
and “mine” lies not in the external world, but in how we intend 
to act . And when society as a whole recognizes my “right of owner- 
ship” (by issuing me, for example, a certificate of title), it agrees 
to protect me in my intentions to use the automobile and to frus- 
trate, by police action if necessary, the intentions of those who may 
wish to use it without my permission. Society makes this agreement 
with me in return for my obeying its laws and paying my share 
of the expenses of government. 

Are not, then, all assertions of ownership and statements about 
“rights” directives? Cannot, “This is mine," be translated, “I am 
going to use this object; you keep your hands off”? Cannot, “Every 
child has a right to an education,” be translated, “ Give every child 
an education”? And is not the difference between “moral rights” 
and “legal rights” the difference between agreements which people 
believe ought to be made, and those which, through collective, 
legislative sanction, have been made? 



DIRECTIVES AND DISILLUSIONMENT 


III 


Directives and Disillusionment 

A few cautions may be added before we leave the subject of direc- 
tive language. First, it should be remembered that, since words 
cannot “say all” about anything, the promises implied in directive 
language are never more than “outline maps” of “territories-to-be.” 
The future will fill in those outlines, often in unexpected ways. 
Sometimes the future will bear no relation to our “maps” at all, in 
spite of all our endeavors to bring about the promised events. We 
swear always to be good citizens, always to do our duty, aiid so on, 
but we never quite succeed in being good citizens every day of our 
lives or in performing all our duties. A realization that directives 
cannot fully impose any pattern on the future saves us from having 
impossible expectations and therefore from suffering needless dis- 
appointments. 

Secondly, one should distinguish between directive and informa- 
tive utterances, which often look alike. Such statements as “A Boy 
Scout is clean and chivalrous and brave” or “Policemen are defenders 
of the weak” set up goals and do not necessarily describe the present 
situation. This is extremely important, because all too often people 
understand such definitions as being descriptive and are thereupon 
shocked, horrified, and disillusioned upon encountering a Boy 
Scout who is not chivalrous or a policeman who is a bully. They 
decide that they are “through with the Boy Scouts” or “disgusted 
with all policemen,” which, of course, is nonsense. 

A third source of disappointment and disillusionment arising from 
the improper understanding of directives arises from reading into 
directives things that were not said. A common instance is pro- 
vided by advertisements of the antiseptics and patent medicines 
which people buy under the impression that they will prevent or 
cure colds. Because of rulings of the Federal Trade Commission, 
the writers of these advertisements carefully avoid saying that 
their preparations will prevent or cure anything. Instead, they say 
that they “help reduce the severity of the infection,” “help relieve 
the symptoms of a cold,” or “help guard against sniffling and other 



112 THE LANGUAGE OF SOCIAL CONTROL 

discomforts.” If after reading these advertisements you feel that 
prevention or cure of colds has been promised, you are exactly the 
kind of sucker they are looking for. 

Another way of reading into directives things that were not said 
is by believing promises to be more specific and concrete than they 
really are. When, for example, a candidate for political office prom- 
ises to “help the farmer,” and you vote for him, and then you dis- 
cover that he helps the cotton farmer without helping the potato 
farmer (and you grow potatoes) — you cannot exactly accuse him 
of having broken his promise. Or, if another candidate promises to 
“protect union labor,” and you vote for him, and he helps to pass 
legislation that infuriates the officials of your union (he calls it 
“legislation to protect union members from their own racketeering 
leadership”) — again you cannot exactly accuse him of having broken 
his promise, since his action may well have been sincerely in accord 
with his notion of “helping union labor.” 

Politicians are often accused of breaking their promises. No doubt 
many of them do. But it must be remarked that they often do not 
promise as much as their constituents think they do. The platforms 
of the major parties are almost always at high levels of abstraction 
(“they mean all things to all men,” as the cynical say), but they 
are often understood by voters to be more specific and concrete 
(i.e., at lower levels of abstraction) than they are. If one is “dis- 
illusioned” by the acts of a politician, sometimes the politician is 
to blame, but sometimes the voter is to blame for having had the 
illusion to start with — or, as we shall say, for having confused dif- 
ferent levels of abstraction. What is meant by this expression will 
be more fully explained in ensuing chapters. 


Applications 

I. The following statements, in the contexts in which they are usually 
found, are directives. Which of these directives have collective sanction 
and which have not? What rewards (if any) are promised to those who 
follow the directives, and what punishments (if any) are threatened to 
those who do not? What is the likelihood, in each case, of the conse- 
quences following as promised? 



APPLICATIONS 


ll 3 

1. And remember, ladies and gentlemen of the radio audience, when- 
ever you say “Blotto Coffee” to your grocer, you are saying “thank you” 
to us. 

sample analysis: This is directive language since it attempts to 
influence the future behavior of the listener. Happily we are free 
to disregard this directive since it is in the interests of a business 
concern and, therefore, does not have collective sanction. There is 
an implied promise that if the listener will show his gratitude by 
purchasing Blotto Coffee, the manufacturer will continue to pro- 
vide him with programs such as precede this announcement. If 
enough people obey this directive, the likelihood of this promise 
being kept is quite great. Better switch to tea. 

2. “When first hooked a fish is strong and quick. The wise angler 
always gives his quarry a little time to get the edge and speed out of his 
runs. As soon as the first run or two are over, the maximum safe tackle 
strain can be applied whenever the fish stops running. A running or 
leaping fish should be played on a very light drag. The harder and 
faster a fish runs or leaps the sooner he will tire. This activity will tire 
a fish quicker than any strain the angler can put on him. Encourage 
your fish to run whenever possible but never let him rest. Big trout and 
salmon, difficult fish on any tackle, can be brought in as quickly on 
light tackle as on heavier gear if they are kept moving.” 

— lee wulff, Handbook of Freshwater Fishing 

3. “We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created 
equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain inalienable 
Rights, that among tfiese are life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness.” 

— The Declaration of Independence 

4. No Trespassing. 

5. “ ‘No great stretch of the imagination is required to foresee that if 
nothing is done to check the growth in concentration, either the giant 
corporations will ultimately take over the country, or the government 
will be impelled to step in and impose some form of direct regulation 
in the public interest/ Thus declares the Federal Trade Commission, 
in a well-documented warning which shows the nearly fantastic rate 
at which independent firms are being currendy ‘merged’ into the trusts. 

“In either event, collectivism will have triumphed over free enter- 
prise and the theory of competition will have been relegated to the limbo 
of well-intentioned but ineffective ideals.” 

— The Co-operative Builder , August 12, 1948 



114 THE LANGUAGE OF SOCIAL CONTROL 

6. “The French House, under the direction and control of the De- 
partment, provides a fine opportunity to gain fluency in the spoken 
language. French and bi-lingual members of the staff live at the House 
and help in directing conversation. Residence in the House is open to 
women, and both men and women may come there for meals. The 
House is not run for financial profit and prices are kept as low as 
possible. 

“The Department strongly urges students of French to room or board 
at the House so as to take full advantage of the unusual opportunity for 
speaking the language in everyday situations and hearing it spoken at 
a normal conversational tempo. 

“Applications for room reservations should be made early.” 

— Catalog of die University of Wisconsin 

7. “the humble wrinkle becomes a wartime hero. Outcast of 
former days, today the wrinkle in a piece of laundrywork is a symbol 
of our striving towards victory. Modestly, unassumingly, it says, ‘I am 
here because so many laundry workers are in war plants — because so 
many more people patronize the laundry these busy days — because so 
many wartime restrictions surround me. But I’m really harmless. I don’t 
hurt the appearance of laundrywork enough to talk about — and I cer- 
tainly don’t interfere with its usefulness. Not only that, but it’s still, and 
always will be, completely sterilized to protect health!’ 

“To the wrinkle, our customers reply, ‘We understand. Hats off to 
you in your moment of glory!’ — north Chicago laundry.” 

— Advertisement 

8 . The 'New Colossus: Inscription for the Statue of Liberty 

Not like the brazen giant of Greek fame, 

With conquering limbs astride from land to land 
Here at our sea-washed sunset gates shall stand 
A mighty woman with a torch, whose fame 
Is the imprisoned lightning, and her name 
Mother of Exiles. From her beaconhand 
Glows world- wide welcome; her mild eyes command 
The air-bridged harbour that twin cities frame. 

“Keep, ancient lands, your storied pomp,” cries she 
With silent lips. “Give me your tired, your poor. 

Your huddled masses yearning to breathe free. 

The wretched refuse of your teeming shore. 

Send these, the homeless, the tempest-tost to me, 

I lift my lamp beside the golden door!” 

EMMA LAZARUS 



APPLICATIONS 


US 

II. Study the following statements in relation to the contexts in which 
they are likely to be found. Which are used principally as directives? 
Are there any which could hardly ever be used for directive purposes? 

1. He is un-American. 

sample analysis: Ordinarily this statement is used as a strong 
judgment — a “snarl-word” — expressing the speaker’s dislike of an- 
other person’s opinions. Such a judgment ordinarily has strong 
directive implications: “Throw him out,” or “Don’t vote for him.” 
In special contexts, where speaker and listener have agreed upon 
an exact and verifiable meaning of the word “un-American,” the 
statement could be a report. Such contexts are rare. 

2. “A policeman’s lot is not a happy one.” — w. s. gilbert 

3. “Man is born free; and everywhere he is in chains.” — rousseau 

4. Lightning strokes vary in length from 500 feet to two miles or more. 

5. The performance will begin at 8:30 p.m. sharp. 

6. “Books must be read as deliberately and reservedly as they were 
written.” — h. d. thoreau 

7. “Activity is the only road to knowledge.” — g. b. shaw 

8. With smoker after smoker who has tried different cigarettes — and 
compared them for mildness, coolness and flavor — Mammals are the 
“choice of experience.” 

9. In man at rest, about sixteen breathing movements are made per 
minute. 

10. “Some of the follies we commit because of false maps in our heads 
are so commonplace that we do not even think of them as remarkable. 
There are those who protect themselves from accidents by carrying a 
rabbit’s foot in the pocket. Some refuse to sleep on the thirteenth floor 
of hotels.” — s. 1. hayakawa, Language in Thought and Action 

III. Write the copy, draw (or describe) the illustrations you may 
need, and lay out a campaign (dinners, appointing of committees, per- 
sonal solicitations, etc.) for a local fund-raising drive on behalf of the 
Red Cross, the Community Chest, or some such organization. Try sin- 
cerely to use appeals. that will alter other people’s behavior, in this 
case, cause them to contribute to the fund where they might otherwise 
not. Can one go too far in using affective appeals for even such 



II 6 THE LANGUAGE OF SOCIAL CONTROL 


worthy causes? If the answer is “Yes,” what determines the limits 
within which one should stay? 

IV. “Ownership” is defined in this chapter as a set of directive agree- 
ments recognized by society with respect to who may enjoy the use of 
what things. But the freedom to use and enjoy what is “mine” is limited 
according to the kind of property; e.g., I may drive “my” automobile 
only if it is duly registered with the state and if I have a drivers license. 
What are the differences in the extensional meanings of the word “my” 
in the following expressions: 

my electric iron my house 

my real estate lot my hotel room 

my shares of General Motors stock my original Rembrandt 



8. The Language 

of Affective Communication 


What 1 call the “auditory imagination ” is the feeling for syllable 
and rhythm, penetrating far below the conscious levels of thought 
and feeling, invigorating every word; sinking to the most primi- 
tive and forgotten, returning to the origin and bringing some- 
thing bacl{, seeding the beginning and the end . It wor\s through 
meanings, certainly , or not without meanings in the ordinary 
sense, and fuses the old and obliterated and the trite, the current, 
and the new and surprising, the most ancient and the most 
civilized mentality . T. s. eliot 

" W hat's all this about ‘ one man, one vote*?” as\ed the Not- 
tingham miner . 

“Why, one bloody man, one bloody vote ,” Bill replied . 

“Well, why the *ell cant they say so?” 

HUGH R. WALPOLE 


The language o£ science is instrumental in getting done the work 
necessary for life, but it does not tell us anything about what life 
feels like in the living. We can communicate scientific facts to each 
other without knowing or caring about each other’s feelings; but 
before love, friendship, and community can be established among 
men so that we want to co-operate and become a society, there must 
be, as we have seen, a flow of sympathy between one man and 
another. This flow of sympathy is established, of course, by means 
of the affective uses of language. Most of the time, after all, we are 
not interested in keeping our feelings out of our discourse, but 
rather we are eager to express them as fully as we can. Let us 
examine, then, some more of the ways in which language can be 
made to work affectively. 


E 



AFFECTIVE COMMUNICATION 


Il8 


Verbal Hypnotism 

First, it should be pointed out again that fine-sounding speeches, 
long words, and the general air of saying something important are 
affective in result, regardless of what is being said. Often when we 
are hearing or reading impressively worded sermons, speeches, 
political addresses, essays, or “fine writing,” we stop being critical 
altogether, and simply allow ourselves to feel as excited, sad, joyous, 
or angry as the author wishes us to feel. Like snakes under the in- 
fluence of a snake charmer’s flute, we are swayed by the musical 
phrases of the verbal hypnotist. If the author is a man to be trusted, 
there is no reason why we should not enjoy ourselves in this way 
now and then. But to listen or read in this way habitually is a debil- 
itating habit. 

There is a kind of churchgoer who habitually listens in this 
way, however. He enjoys any sermon, no matter what the moral 
principles recommended, no matter how poorly organized or de- 
veloped, no matter how shabby its rhetoric, so long as it is deliv- 
ered in an impressive tone of voice with proper musical and 
physical settings. Such listeners are by no means to be found only 
in churches. The writer has frequently been enraged when, after he 
has spoken before women’s clubs on problems about which he 
wished to arouse thoughtful discussion, certain ladies have re- 
marked, “That was such a lovely address, professor. You have such 
a nice voice.” 

Some people, that is, never listen to what is being said, since 
they are interested only in what might be called the gentle in- 
ward massage that the sound of words gives them. Just as cats 
and dogs like to be stroked, so do some human beings like to 
be verbally stroked at fairly regular intervals; it is a form of rudi- 
mentary sensual gratification. Because listeners of this kind are 
numerous, intellectual shortcomings are rarely a barrier to a suc- 
cessful career in public life, on the stage or radio, on the lecture 
platform, or in die ministry. 



MORE AFFECTIVE ELEMENTS 


“9 


More Affective Elements 

The affective power of repetition of similar sounds, as in “catchy” 
titles and slogans ( The Mind in the Maying, Live Alone and Li\e 
It, Roosevelt or Ruin) has already been mentioned. Somewhat 
higher on the scale are repetitions not only of sounds but of gram- 
matical structures, as in: 

First in war, 

first in peace, 

first in the hearts of his countrymen . , . 

Government of the people, 
by the people, 
for the people . . . 

Elements of discourse such as these are, from the point of view of 
scientific reporting, extraneous; but without them, these phrases 
would not have impressed people. Lincoln could have signified 
just as much for informative purposes had he said “government of, 
by and for the people,” or even more simply, “a people’s govern- 
ment.” But he was not writing a scientific monograph. He hammers 
the word “people” at us three times, and with each apparently un- 
necessary repetition he arouses deeper and more affecting connota- 
tions of the word. While this is not the place to discuss in detail the 
complexities of the affective qualities of language that reside in 
sound alone, it is important to remember that many of the attrac- 
tions of literature and oratory have a simple phonetic basis — rhyme, 
alliteration, assonance, crossed alliteration, and all the subtleties of 
rhythm. All these sound effects are used to reinforce wherever pos- 
sible the other affective devices. 

Another affective device is the direct address to the listener or 
reader, as: “Keep off the grass. This means you!” The most painful 
example of this is Jimmie Fidler’s “And I do mean you.” It seeks 
to engage the listener’s attention and interest by making him feel 
that he personally is being addressed. But the use of this device is 
by no means limited to the advertising poster and radio announcer. 
It softens the impersonality of formal speeches and adds what is 



120 


AFFECTIVE COMMUNICATION 


called the “personal touch.” When a speaker or writer feels a special 
urgency about his message, he can hardly help using it. It occurs, 
therefore, in the finest rhetoric as well as in the simplest. Almost as 
common as the “you” device is the “we” device. The writer in this 
case allies the reader with himself, in order to carry the reader 
along with him in seeing things as he does: “We shall now con- 
sider next . . “Let us take, for example . . “Our duty is to go 
forward . . This device is particularly common in the politer 
forms of exhortation used by preachers and teachers and is found 
throughout this book. 

In such rhetorical devices as the periodic sentence there is distor- 
tion of grammatical order for affective purposes. A periodic sentence 
is one in which the completion of the thought is, for the sake of 
the slight dramatic effect that can be produced by keeping the 
reader in suspense for a while, delayed. Then there are such devices 
as antithesis , in which strongly opposed notions are placed together 
or even laid side by side in parallel phonetic or grammatical con- 
structions, so that the reader feels the contrast and is stirred by it: 
“Born a serf, he died a king.” “The sweetest songs are those that 
tell of saddest thought.” “The hungry judges soon the sentence 
sign, And wretches hang that jurymen may dine.” 


Metaphor and Simile 

As we have seen, words have affective connotations in addition 
to their informative value, and this accounts for the fact that state- 
ments of the kind: “I’ve been waiting ages for you — you’re an hour 
overdue!” “He’s got tons of money!” “I’m so tired I’m simply deadl n 
— which are nonsensical if interpreted literally — nevertheless “make 
sense.” The inaccuracy or inappropriateness of the informative con- 
notations of our words are irrelevant from the point of view of 
affective communication. Therefore we may refer to the moon as 
“a piece of cheese,” “a lady,” “a silver ship,” “a fragment of angry 
candy,” or anything else, so long as the words arouse the desired 
feelings toward the moon or toward the whole situation in which 
the moon appears. This, incidentally, is the reason literature is so 



METAPHOR AND SIMILE 


121 


difficult to translate from one language to another — a translation 
that follows informative connotations will often falsify the affective 
connotations, and vice versa, so that readers who know both the 
language of the original and the language of the translation are 
almost sure to be dissatisfied, feeling either that the “spirit of the 
original has been sacrificed” or else that the translation is “full of 
inaccuracies.” 

During the long time in which metaphor and simile were re- 
garded as “ornaments” of speech — that is, as if they were like em- 
broidery, which improves the appearance of our linen but adds 
nothing to its utility — the psychology of such communicative devices 
was neglected. We tend to assume, in ways that will be discussed 
more fully in later chapters, that things that create in us the same 
responses are identical with each other. If, for example, we are 
revolted by the conduct of an acquaintance at dinner and we have 
had such a sense of revulsion before only when watching pigs at 
a trough, our first, unreflecting reaction is naturally to say, “He is a 
pig.” So far as our feelings are concerned, the man and the pig 
are identical with each other. Again, the soft winds of spring may 
produce in us agreeable sensations; the soft hands of lovely young 
girls also produce agreeable sensations; therefore, “Spring has soft 
hands.” This is the basic process by which we arrive at metaphor. 
Metaphors are not “ornaments of discourse”; they are direct expres- 
sions of evaluations and are bound to occur whenever we have 
strong feelings to express. They are to be found in special abun- 
dance, therefore, in all primitive speech, in folk speech, in the speech 
of the unlearned, in the speech of children, and in the professional 
argot of the theater, of gangsters, and other lively occupations. 

So far as our feelings are concerned, there is no distinction be- 
tween animate and inanimate objects. Our fright feels the same 
whether it is a creature or object that we fear. Therefore, in the 
expression of our feelings, a car may “lie down and die,” the wind 
“kisses” our cheeks, the waves are “angry” and “roar” against the 
cliffs, the roads are icy and “treacherous,” the mountains “look 
down” on the sea, machine guns “spit,” revolvers “bark,” volcanoes 
“vomit” fire, and the engine “gobbles” coal. This special kind of 
metaphor is called personification and is ordinarily described in 



122 AFFECTIVE COMMUNICATION 

textbooks of rhetoric as “making animate things out of inanimate.” 
It is better understood, however, if we describe it as not distinguish- 
ing between the animate and the inanimate . 


Simile 

However, even at rudimentary stages of evaluation it becomes 
apparent that calling a person a pig does not take sufficiently into 
consideration the differences between the person and the pig. Fur- 
ther reflection compels one to say, in modification of the original 
statement, “He is li\e a pig.” Such an expression is called a simile 
— the pointing out of the similarities in our feelings towards the 
person and the pig. The simile, then, is something of a compromise 
stage between the direct, unreflective expression of feeling and the 
report, but of course closer to the former than the latter. 

Adequate recognition has never been given to the fact that what 
we call slang and vulgarism works on exactly the same principles 
as poetry does. Slang makes constant use of metaphor and simile: 
“sticking his neck out,” “to rubberneck,” “out like a light,” “ba- 
loney,” “shutterbug,” “punch-drunk,” “weasel puss,” “keep your 
shirt on,” The imaginative process by which phrases such* as these 
are coined is the same as that by which poets arrive at poetry. In 
poetry, there is the same love of seeing things in scientifically out- 
rageous but emotionally expressive language: 

The hunched camels of the night 

Trouble the bright 

And silver waters of the moon. 

— FRANCIS THOMPSON 

The snow doesn’t give a soft white 
damn Whom it touches. 

— E. E. CUMMINGS 

. . . the leaves dead 

Are driven, like ghosts from an enchanter fleeing, 

Yellow, and black, and pale, and hectic red. 
Pestilence-stricken multitudes. 


— PERCY BYSSHE SHELVE Y 



SIMILE 


I2 3 


Sweet are the uses of adversity, 

Which like the toad, ugly and venomous, 

Wears yet a precious jewel in his head; 

And this our life exempt from public haunt, 

Finds tongues in trees, books in the running brook, 

Sermons in stones, and good in everything. 

WILLIAM SHAKESPEARE 

I saw Eternity the other night 

Like a great ring of pure and endless light. 

— HENRY VAUGHAN 

What is called slang, therefore, might well be regarded as the 
poetry of everyday life, since it performs much the same function 
as poetry; that is, it vividly expresses people's feelings about life 
and about the things they encounter in life. 


Dead Metaphor 

Metaphor, simile, and personification are among the most useful 
communicative devices we have, because by their quick affective 
power they often make unnecessary the inventing of new words for 
new things or new feelings. They are so commonly used for this 
purpose, indeed, that we resort to them constantly without realiz- 
ing that we are doing so. For example, when we talk about the 
“head” of a cane, the “face” of a cliff, the “bowels” of a volcano, 
the “arm” of the sea, the “hands” of a watch, the “branches” of a 
river or an insurance company, we are using metaphor. A salesman 
“covers” an area; an engine “knocks”; a theory is “built up” and 
then “knocked down”; a government “drains” the taxpayers, and 
corporations “milk” the consumers. Even in so unpoetical a source 
as the financial page of a newspaper, metaphors ire to be found: 
stock is “watered,” shares are “liquidated,” prices are “slashed” or 
“stepped up,” markets are “flooded,” the exchange is “bullish”; in 
spite of government efforts to “hamstring” business and “strangle” 
enterprise, there are sometimes “melons” to be “sliced”; although 
this is — but here we leave the financial page— “pure gravy” for some, 
others are left “holding the bag.” The “rings” both of “political 



124 AFFECTIVE COMMUNICATION 

rings” and “hydrocarbon rings” are metaphorical, as are the “chains” 
in “chain stores” and “chain reactions.” Metaphors are so useful 
that they often pass into the language as part of its regular vocab- 
ulary. Metaphor is probably the most important of all the means by 
which language develops, changes, grows, and adapts itself to our 
changing needs. When metaphors are successful, they “die” — that 
is, they become so much a part of our regular language that we 
cease thinking of them as metaphors at all. 

To object to arguments, as is often done, on the ground that they 
are based on metaphors or on “metaphorical thinking” is rarely 
just. The question is not whether metaphors are used, but whether 
the metaphors represent useful similarities. 


Allusion 

Still another affective device is allusion. If we say, for example, 
standing on a bridge in St. Paul, Minnesota, in the early morning: 

Earth has not anything to show more fair; 

Dull would he be of soul who could pass by 

A sight so touching in its majesty . . . 

we are evoking, in the mind of anyone familiar with the poem 
such feelings as Wordsworth expressed at the sight of London in 
the early morning light in September 1802 and applying them to 
St. Paul. Thus, by a kind of implied simile, we can give expression 
to our feelings. Allusion, then, is an extremely quick way of ex- 
pressing and also of creating in our hearers shades of feeling. With 
a Biblical allusion we can often arouse reverent or pious attitudes; 
with a historical allusion, such as saying that New York is “the 
modern Babylon/’ we can say quickly and effectively that we feel 
New York to be an extremely wicked and luxurious city, doomed 
to destruction because of its sinfulness; by a literary allusion, wje 
can evoke the exact feelings found in a given story or poem as a 
way of feeling toward the event before us. 

But allusions work as an affective device only when the hearer 
is familiar with the history, literature, people, or events alluded to. 



ALLUSION 


125 

Family jokes (which are almost always allusions to events or 
memories in the family’s experience) have to be explained to out- 
siders; classical allusions in literature have to be explained to people 
not familiar with the classics. Nevertheless, whenever a group of 
people — the members of a single family or the members of a whole 
civilization — have memories and traditions in common, extremely 
subtle and efficient affective communications become possible 
through the use of allusion. 

One of the reasons, therefore, that the young in every culture 
are made to study the literature and history of their own linguistic 
or national groups is that they may be able to understand and share 
in the communications of the group. Whoever, for example, fails 
to understand such statements as “He is a regular Benedict Arnold,” 
or “The president of the corporation is only a Charlie McCarthy; 
the Bergen of the outfit is the general manager,” is in a sense an 
outsider to the popular cultural traditions of contemporary America. 
Similarly, one who fails to understand passing allusions to well- 
known figures in European or American history, to well-known 
lines in Chaucer, Shakespeare, Milton, Wordsworth, or the King 
James version of the Bible, or to well-known characters in Dickens, 
Thackeray, or Mark Twain may be said in the same sense to be an 
outsider to an important part of the traditions of English-speaking 
people. The study of history and of literature, therefore, is not 
merely the idle acquisition of social polish, as practical men are 
fond of believing, but a necessary means both of increasing the 
efficiency of our communications and of increasing our understand- 
ing of what others are trying to communicate to us. 


Irony, Pathos, and Humor 

A somewhat more complex device, upon which much of humor, 
pathos, and irony depends, is the use of a metaphor, simile, or allu- 
sion that is so obviously inappropriate that a feeling of conflict is 
aroused: a conflict between our more obvious feelings towards that 
which we are talking about and the feelings aroused by the expres- 
sion. In such a case, the conflicting feelings resolve themselves into 



126 AFFECTIVE COMMUNICATION 

a third, new feeling . Let us suppose, returning to our example 
above, that we are looking at an extremely ugly part of St. Paul, 
so that our obvious feelings are those of distaste. Then we arouse, 
with the Wordsworth quotation, the feeling of beauty and majesty. 
The result is a feeling suggested neither by the sight of the city 
alone nor by the allusion alone, but one that is a product of the 
conflict of the two — a sharp sense of incongruity that compels us 
either to laugh or to weep, depending on the rest of the context. 
There are many complex shades of feeling that can hardly be 
aroused in any other way. If a village poet is referred to as the 
“Mudviile Milton,” for example, the conflict between the inglorious 
connotations of “Mudviile” and the glorious connotations of “Mil- 
ton” produces an effect of the ludicrous, so that the poet is exposed 
to contempt, although, if Craigenputtock can produce a Carlyle, 
there is no reason that Mudviile should not produce a Milton. 
This somewhat more complex device may be represented graph- 
ically by a diagram borrowed from mathematics: 



The Affectiveness of Facts 

The following account of an automobile accident is quoted from 
the Chicago Sun-Times , October 4, 1948: 



THE AFFECTIVENESS OF FACTS ITJ 

One [victim], Alex Kuzma, 63, of 808 North Maplewood Avenue, 
was hit with such impact that his right forearm was carried off on the 
car of the hit-run motorist who struck him. Kuzma was struck Sunday 
as he crossed Chicago Avenue at Campbell Avenue. Witnesses saw the 
car slow down, douse its headlights and speed away. After searching 
futilely for the dead man’s missing arm, police expressed belief it must 
have lodged in some section of the speeding auto. 

There are few readers who will not have some kind of affective 
reaction to this story — at least a mild horror at the gruesomeness 
of the accident and some indignation at the driver who failed to 
stop after striking someone. Facts themselves, especially at lower 
levels of abstraction , can be affective without the use of special 
literary devices to make them more so. 

There is, however, one important difference between the affective- 
ness of facts and the other affective elements in language. In the 
latter, the writer qr speaker is expressing his own feelings; in the 
former, he is “suppressing his feelings” — that is to say, stating things 
in a way that would be verifiable by all observers, regardless of 
one’s feelings. 

Often, as in the example given, a report with accurately stated 
facts is more affective in result than outright and explicit judgments. 
By bringing the report down to even lower levels of abstraction — 
describing the blood on the victim’s face and torn clothing, the torn 
ligaments hanging out of the remaining stump of his arm, and so 
on — one can make it even more affective. Instead of telling the 
reader, “It was a ghastly accident!” we can ma\e the reader say it 
for himself. The reader is, so to speak, made to participate in the 
communicative act by being left to draw his own conclusions . A 
skillful writer is often, therefore, one who is especially expert at 
selecting the facts that are sure to move his readers in the desired 
ways. We are more likely to be convinced by such descriptive and 
factual writing than by a series of explicit judgments, because the 
writer does not ask us to take his word for it that the accident was 
“ghastly.” Such a conclusion becomes, in a sense, our own discovery 
rather than his. 



128 


AFFECTIVE COMMUNICATION 


Levels of Writing 

Reliance upon the aflectiveness of facts — that is, reliance upon 
the reader’s ability to arrive at the judgment we want him to arrive 
at — varies considerably, of course, according to the subject we are 
dealing with and the audience. 

In this light, it is interesting to compare magazines and stories 
at different levels: the “pulp” and “confession” magazines, the 
“slicks” ( Good Housekeeping, McCcdVs, Esquire, Saturday Evening 
Post, and so on), and the “quality” magazines {Harper's, The New 
Yor\er, The Nation, for example). In the magazines of mass ap- 
peal, the writers rarely rely on the reader’s ability to arrive at 
his own conclusions. In order to save any possible strain on the 
reader’s intelligence, the writers ma\e the judgments for us. The 
“slicks” do this less than the “pulps,” while in the “quality” 
group, the tendency is to rely a great deal on the reader: to give no 
judgments at all when the facts “speak for themselves,” or to give 
enough facts with every judgment so that the reader is free to make 
a different judgment if he so wishes. 

The following passages from the August 1948 issue of True Con- 
fessions give an example of making the judgments for the reader 
so that he doesn’t have to figure them out for himself: 

Telling Mrs. Peters and Mrs. Jenks, watching grief engulf them, was 
nightmare enough, but telling Edie was worst of all. She just stood 
there in frozen silence, her eyes wide with horror and disbelief, her 
face getting whiter and whiter. 

“I did everything possible to save them!” I cried. “It was an accident — 
an unpreventable accident!” 

But Edie’s eyes were bitterly accusing as she choked, “Accident! If 
you hadn’t insisted on taking them, there would have been no accident!” 
Tears streamed down her ravaged face and her voice rose hysterically. 
“I never want to see you again as long as I live! You — you murderer 1 “ 
she screamed. 

I stared at her Tor what seemed a lifetime of horror before I turned 
and fled, a million shrieking demons screaming in my ear, She's right! 
You're a murderer! Murderer! 



LEVELS OF WRITING 


129 

The coroner’s verdict called the boat’s overloading “a tragic error of 
judgment.” . . . But nothing could lighten that feeling of guilt in my 
heart or remove the sound of Edie’s voice screaming, “Murderer!” It 
rang in my ears day and night, making work impossible — sleep even 
more impossible. Until I sought forgetfulness in the only way I could 
find it — by getting blind drunk and staying that way. 

I was lurching through the door of a cheap bar weeks later when . . . 

+ + + 

Jim was big and strong with huge shoulders and a great shock of 
yellow hair. Just looking at him made me excited and breathless. His 
great laugh could stir me to laughter. The touch of his hand filled me 
with a sweet, frightening delight. The day he invited me to the senior 
prom I thought I’d die of happiness. 

Then I told Mother. I can still see her thin, fine-featured face pinched 
as if with frost. There was cold retreat in her eyes, and the wry smile 
on her lips made my heart turn over. . . . 

The prose style of Ernest Hemingway is perhaps the classic 
example of the opposite technique — a highly sophisticated one, 
needless to say — of stating externally observable facts in the form 
of bare reports and of letting the reported facts have their impact 
on the reader. The following is the famous ending of A Farewell 
to Arms: 

I went into the room and stayed with Catherine until she died. She 
was unconscious all the time, and it did not take her very long to die. 

Outside the room, in the hall, I spoke to the doctor, “Is there anything 
I can do tonight?” 

“No. There is nothing to do. Can I take you to your hotel?” 

“No, thank you. I am going to stay here a while.” 

“I know there is nothing to say. I cannot tell you — ” 

“No,” I said. “There’s nothing to say.” 

“Good-night,” he said. “I cannot take you to your hotel?” 

“No, thank you.” 

“It was the only thing to do,” he said. “The operation proved — ” 

“I do not want to talk about it,” I said. 

“I would like to take you to your hotel.” 

“No, thank you.” 

He went down the hall. I went to the door of the room. 

“You can’t come in now,” one of the nurses said. 



AFFECTIVE COMMUNICATION 


130 

“Yes I can,” I said. 

“You can’t come in yet.” 

“You get out,” I said. “The other one too.” 

But after I had got them out and shut the door and turned off the 
light it wasn’t any good. It was like saying good-by to a statue. After 
a while I went out and left the hospital and walked back to the hotel 
in the rain. 


What Literature Is For 

From what has been said, our first and most obvious conclusion 
is that since the expression of individual feelings is central to litera- 
ture, affective elements are of the utmost importance in all literary 
writing. In the evaluation of a novel, poem, play, or short story, as 
well as in the evaluation of sermons, moral exhortations, political 
speeches, and directive utterances generally, the usefulness of the 
given piece of writing as a “map” of actual “territories” is often 
secondary — sometimes quite irrelevant. If this were not the case, 
Gullivers Travels, Alice in Wonderland, The Scarlet Letter, or 
Emerson’s Essays would have no excuse for existence. 

Secondly, when we say that a given piece of affective writing is 
true, we do not mean “scientifically true.” It may mean merely that 
we agree with the sentiment; it may also mean that we believe that 
an attitude has been accurately expressed; again, it may mean that 
the attitudes it evokes are believed to be such as will lead us to 
better social or personal conduct. There is no end to the meanings 
“true” may have. People who feel that science and literature or 
science and religion are in necessary conflict do so because they 
habitually think in opposites of black and white, true and false, 
good arid evil. To such people, if science is “true,” then literature 
or religion is nonsense; if literature or religion is “true,” science is 
merely “pretentious ignorance.” What should be understood when 
people tell us that certain statements are “scientifically true” is that 
they are useful and verifiable formulations, suitable for the purposes 
of organized co-operative workmanship. What should be under- 
stood when people tell us that the plays of Shakespeare or the poems 



WHAT LITERATURE IS FOR I3I 

of Milton or Dante are “eternally true” is that they produce in us 
attitudes toward our fellow men, an understanding of ourselves, 
or feelings of deep moral obligation that are valuable to humanity 
under any conceivable circumstances. 

Thirdly, let us consider an important shortcoming of the lan- 
guage of reports and of scientific writing. John Smith in love with 
Mary is not William Brown in love with Jane; William Brown in 
love with Jane is not Henry Jones in love with Anne; Henry Jones 
in love with Anne is not Robert Browning in love with Elizabeth 
Barrett. Each of these situations is unique; no two loves are exactly 
alike — in fact, no love even between the same people is exactly 
the same from day to day. Science, seeking as always laws of the 
widest possible applicability and the greatest possible generality, 
would abstract from these situations only what they have in com- 
mon . But each of these lovers is conscious only of the uniqueness 
of his own feelings; each feels, as we all know, that he is the first 
one in the world ever to have so loved. 

How is that sense of difference conveyed ? It is here that affective 
uses of language play their most important part. The infinity of 
differences in our feelings towards all the many experiences that 
we undergo are too subtle to be reported; they must be expressed. 
And we express them by the complicated manipulation of tones of 
voice, of rhythms, of connotations, of affective facts, of metaphors, 
of allusions, of every affective device of language at our command. 

Frequently the feelings to be expressed are so subtle or complex 
that a few lines of prose or verse are not enough to convey them. 
It is sometimes necessary, therefore, for authors to write entire books, 
carrying their readers through numbers of scenes, situations, and 
adventures, pushing their sympathies now this way and now that, 
arousing in turn their fighting spirit, their tenderness, their sense 
of tragedy, their laughter, their superstitiousness, their cupidity, 
their sensuousness, their piety. Only in such ways, sometimes, can 
the exact feelings an author wants to express be re-created in his 
readers. This, then, is the reason that novels, poems, dramas, stories, 
allegories, and parables exist: to convey such propositions as “Life 
is tragic” or “Susanna is beautiful,” not by telling us so, but by 
putting us through a whole series of experiences that make us feel 



132 AFFECTIVE COMMUNICATION 

toward life or toward Susanna as the author did. Literature is the 
most exact expression of feelings, while science is the most exact 
\ind of reporting . Poetry, which condenses all the affective resources 
of language into patterns of infinite rhythmical subtlety, may be 
said to be the language of expression at its highest degree of effi- 
ciency . 


Symbolic Experience 

In a very real sense, then, people who have read good literature 
have lived more than people who cannot or will not read. To have 
read Gulliver s Travels is to have had the experience, with Jonathan 
Swift, of turning sick at the stomach at the conduct of the human 
race; to read Huckleberry Finn is to feel what it is like to drift 
down the Mississippi River on a raft; to have read Byron is to have 
suffered with him his rebellions and neuroses and to have enjoyed 
with him his nose-thumbing at society; to have read Native Son 
is to know how it feels to be frustrated in the particular way in 
which Negroes in Chicago are frustrated. This is the great task 
that affective communication performs: it enables us to feel how 
others felt about life, even if they lived thousands of miles away 
and centuries ago. It is not true that we have only one life to live; 
if we can read, we can live as many more lives and as many kinds 
of lives as we wish. 

Here, the reader may object by asking, are we not twisting lan- 
guage somewhat to talk about “living” other lives than one’s own? 
In one sense, the objection is correct; two different meanings of 
the word “live” are involved in the expressions “living one’s own 
life” and “living other people’s lives in books.” Human life, however, 
is “lived” at more than one level; we inhabit both the extensional 
world afid the world of words (and other symbols). “Living 
other people’s lives in books” means, as we shall use the expression 
here, symbolic experience — sometimes called “vicarious experience.” 

In the enjoyment and contemplation of a work of literary or 
dramatic art — a novel, a play, a moving picture — we find our deep- 
est enjoyment when the leading characters in the story to some 



SYMBOLIC EXPERIENCE 


*33 

degree symbolize ourselves . Jessie Jenkins at the movie, watching 
Ann Sheridan being kissed by a handsome man, sighs as contentedly 
as if she herself were being kissed — and symbolically, she is. In other 
words, she identifies herself with Ann Sheridan and Ann Sheridan’s 
role in the story. Humphrey Bogart fighting a crowd of villains is 
watched by thousands of men who clench their hands as if they 
were doing the fighting— which they are, symbolically . As we 
identify ourselves with the people in the story, the dramatist or 
the novelist puts us through organized sequences of symbolic ex- 
periences. 

The differences between actual and symbolic experiences are 
great — one is not scarred by watching a moving-picture battle, nor 
is one nourished by watching people in a play having dinner. 
Furthermore, actual experiences come to us in highly disorganized 
fashion: meals, arguments with the landlady, visits to the doctor 
about one’s fallen arches, and so on, interrupt the splendid course 
of romance. The novelist, however, abstracts only the events relevant 
to his story and then organizes them into a meaningful sequence. 
This business of abstracting (selecting) events and organizing them 
so that they bear some meaningful relationship to each other and 
to the central “theme” of a novel or play constitutes the “story- 
teller’s art.” Plot construction, development of character, narrative 
structure, climax, denouement, and all the other things one talks 
about in technical literary criticism have reference to this organiz- 
ing of symbolic experiences so that the whole complex of symbolic 
experiences (i.e., the finished story or play) will have the desired 
impact on the reader. 

AH literary and dramatic enjoyment, whether of nursery tales 
in childhood or of moving pictures later on or of “great literature,” 
appears to involve to some degree the reader’s imaginative identifica- 
tion of himself with the roles portrayed and his projection of himself 
into the situations described in the story . 1 Whether a reader is able 

1 At what age does the capacity for imaginative identification of oneself with 
the roles portrayed in a story begin? The writer would suggest, on the basis of 
very limited observation, that it begins around the age of two or earlier. An interest- 
ing test case is to read the story of the Three Bears to a very small child to see 
when he begins to identify himself with Baby Bear. 



134 AFFECTIVE COMMUNICATION 

to identify himself with the characters of a story depends both on 
the maturity of the story and the maturity of the reader. If a mature 
reader finds difficulty identifying himself with the hero of a cowboy 
story, it is because he finds the hero too simple-minded a char- 
acter to serve as an acceptable symbol for himself, and the villains 
and the events too improbable to serve as symbols for his own 
energies and his own problems. On the other hand, an imma- 
ture reader, reading the same story, may have a deep need to 
imagine himself a courageous cowboy, and may also be too inex- 
perienced or uneducated to know what kinds of people or events 
are probable or improbable — in which case he may enjoy the story 
enormously. Again, the immature reader, confronted with a story 
in which the central character is someone far removed from him in 
outlook and background (say, for example, an eighteenth-century 
French cardinal, involved in problems and events the reader has 
^never heard of or thought about before) will find it impossible to 
find in the “hero” any kind of symbol for himself — and will there- 
fore lay the book aside as “too dry.” 

One of the reasons for calling some people immature is that they 
are incapable of confronting defeat, tragedy, or unpleasantness of 
any kind. Such persons usually cannot endure an “unhappy end- 
ing” even in a set of symbolic experiences . Hence the widespread 
passion for happy endings in popular literature, so that even stories 
about unhappy events have to be made, in the end, to “come out all 
right.” The immature constantly need to be reassured that every- 
thing will always come out all right. 

Readers who mature as they grow older, however, steadily in- 
crease the depth and range and subtlety of their symbolic experi- 
ences. Under the guidance of skilled writers who have accurately 
observed the world and were able to organize their observations in 
significant ways, the mature reader may symbolically experience 
what it feels like to be a Chinese peasant woman, a Roman emperor, 
an early nineteenth-century poet, a Greek philosopher, an irresolute 
Prince of Denmark, or a dispossessed Mexican sharecropper. He 
may symbolically experience murder, guilt, religious exaltation, 
bankruptcy, the loss of friends, the discovery of gold mines or new 
philosophical principles, or the sense of desolation following a locust 



SYMBOLIC EXPERIENCE I35 

invasion in North Dakota. Each new symbolic experience means the 
enrichment of his insight into people and events. 

The immature reader, satisfied with the narrow range of char- 
acters that popular literature offers for the reader to identify himself 
with (almost invariably handsome young men or beautiful young 
women of acceptable social status, income level, and skin color), 
and satisfied with the narrow range of symbolic experiences offered 
(love, love, and more love), may read abundantly the offerings of 
the drugstore newsstand and the gift-shop lending library all his 
life without appreciably increasing his knowledge or his sympathies. 

If, on the other hand, we are mature readers, we progress in our 
reading, each new extension and exercise of our imaginations mak- 
ing possible still further extensions. Gradually, the “maps” which 
we have inside our heads become fuller, more accurate, pictures of 
the actual “territories” of human character and behavior under many 
different conditions and in many different times. Gradually, too, our 
increased insight gives us sympathy with our fellow human beings 
everywhere. The Kings of Egypt, the Tibetan priest behind his 
ceremonial mask, the Roman political exile, and the embittered 
Harlem youth are presented to us by the novelist, the poet, and 
the playwright, at levels of vivid and intimate description, so that 
we learn how they lived, what they worried about, and how they 
felt. When the lives of other people, of whatever time and place, 
are examined in this way, we discover to our amazement that they 
are all people. This discovery is the basis of all civilized human 
relationships. If we remain uncivilized — whether in community, 
industrial, national, or international relationships — it is largely be- 
cause most of us have not yet made this discovery. Literature is one 
of the important instruments to that end. 


Science and Literature 

By means of scientific communication, then, with its international 
systems of weights and measures, international systems of botanical 
and zoological nomenclature, international mathematical symbols, 
we are enabled to exchange information with each other, pool our 



I36 AFFECTIVE COMMUNICATION 

observations, and acquire collective control over our environment. 
By means o£ affective communication — by conversation and gesture 
when we can see each other, but by literature and other arts when 
we cannot — we come to understand each other, to cease being 
brutishly suspicious of each other, and gradually to realize the pro- 
found community that exists between us and our fellow men. 
Science, in short, makes us able to co-operate; the arts enlarge our 
sympathies so that we become willing to co-operate. 

We are today equipped technologically to be able to get prac- 
tically anything we want. But our wants are crude. There seems 
to be only one motivation strong enough to impel us to employ our 
technological capacities to the full, and that is the desire for “mili- 
tary security.” The most expensive concerted national effort in 
every major nation goes into preparations for a war that nobody 
wants to start. The immediate task of the future, then, is not only 
to extend the use of scientific method into fields such as economics 
and politics where superstition now reigns and makes calamity in- 
evitable. It is also to bring, through the affective power of the arts 
and of literature, civilizing influences to bear upon our savage wills. 
We must not only be able to work together; we must actively want 
to work together. 


Applications 

L All literary criticism that tries to find out what exactly an author 
is saying presupposes, of course, knowledge of principles such as those 
discussed in this chapter. Their real application can only be in abundant 
and careful reading and in the development of taste through conscious- 
ness of what is going on in every piece of literature one reads, whether 
it be a magazine serial, a Katherine Mansfield short story, or an Eliza- 
bethan play. 

A useful practice, even for an experienced reader, is to take short 
passages of prose and verse — especially passages he has long been familiar 
with — and to find out by careful analysis (a) what the author is trying 
to communicate; (b) what affective elements help him to convey his 
meaning; (c) what elements, if any, obscure his communication; and 
(d) how successful, on the whole, the author is in conveying his ideas 



APPLICATIONS 137 

and feelings to the reader. The following passages may serve as material 
for this kind of analysis: 

1. “It was a crisp and spicy morning in early October. The lilacs and 

laburnums, lit with the glory fires of autumn, hung burning and flash- 
ing in the upper air, a fairy bridge provided by kind Nature for the 
wingless wild things that have their home in the tree tops and would 
visit together; the larch and the pomegranate flung their purple and 
yellow flames in brilliant broad splashes along the slanting sweep of the 
woodland; the sensuous fragrance of innumerable deciduous flowers rose 
upon the swooning atmosphere; far in the empty sky a solitary 
oesophagus slept upon motionless wing; everywhere brooded stillness, 
serenity, and the peace of God.” — samuel l. clemens 

2. Could man be drunk forever 

With liquor, love, and fights, 

Lief should I rouse at morning, 

And lief lie down of nights. 

But men at whiles are sober, 

And think by fits and starts, 

And if they think, they fasten 
Their hands upon their hearts. 

— A. E. HOUSMAN 

3. Ars Poetica 

A poem should be palpable and mute 

As a globed fruit 

Dumb 

As old medallions to the thumb 

Silent as the sleeve-worn stone 

Of casement ledges where the moss has grown — 

A poem should be wordless 

As the flight of birds 

• * # 

A poem should be motionless in time 

As the moon climbs 

Leaving, as the moon releases 

Twig by twig the night-entangled trees, 



138 AFFECTIVE COMMUNICATION 

Leaving, as the moon behind the winter leaves, 

Memory by memory the mind — 

A poem should be motionless in time 

As the moon climbs 

* * * 

A poem should be equal to: 

Not true 

For all the history of grief 

An empty doorway and a maple leaf 

For love 

The leaning grasses and two lights above the sea — 

A poem should not mean 

But be ARCHIBALD MACLEISH 

4. “Already, in the architecture and layout of the new community, 

one sees the knowledge and discipline that the machine has provided 
turned to more vital conquests, more human consummations. Already, 
in imagination and plan, we have transcended the sinister limitations 
of the existing metropolitan environment. We have much to unbuild 
and much more to build; but the foundations are ready; the machines 
are set in place and the tools are bright and keen; the architects, the 
engineers, and the workmen are assembled. None of us may live to see 
the complete building, and perhaps in the nature of things the building 
can never be completed; but some of us will see the flag or the fir tree 
that the workers will plant aloft in ancient ritual when they cap the 
topmost story.” — lewis mumford, The Culture of Cities 

5. Moving through the silent crowd 
Who stand behind dull cigarettes 
These men who idle in the road, 

I have a sense of falling light. 

They lounge at corners of the street 
And greet friends with a shrug of shoulder, 

And turn their empty pockets out. 

The cynical gestures of the poor. 

Now they’ve no work, like better men 
Who sit at desks and take much pay 



APPLICATIONS 


139 


They sleep long hours and rise at ten 
To watch the hours that drain away. 

I’m jealous of the weeping hours 

They stare through with such hungry eyes. 

I’m haunted by these images, 

I’m haunted by their emptiness. 

— STEPHEN SPENDER 

6. “There is probably one purpose, and only one, for which the use 
of force by a government is beneficent, and that is to diminish the total 
amount of force in the world. It is clear, for example, that the legal 
prohibition of murder diminishes the total amount of violence in the 
world. And no one would maintain that parents should have unlimited 
freedom to ill-treat their children. So long as some men wish to do 
violence to others, there cannot be complete liberty, for either the wish 
to do violence must be restrained, or the victims must be left to suffer. 
For this reason, although individuals and societies should have the 
utmost freedom as regards their own affairs, they ought not to have 
complete freedom as regards their dealings with others. To give freedom 
to the strong to oppress the weak is not the way to secure the greatest 
possible amount of freedom in the world. This is the basis of the social* 
ist revolt against the kind of freedom which used to be advocated by 
laissez-faire economists.” — bertrand russell. Political Ideals * 

II. The opening of a story or play or poem has special significance in 
setting the point of view, establishing the mood, gaining the reader’s 
attention and interest. What can be inferred about the author’s purpose 
from these beginnings? 

Haircut 

I got another barber that comes over from Carterville and helps 
me out Saturdays, but the rest of the time I can get along all right 
alone. You can see for yourself that this ain’t no New York City 
and besides that, the most of the boys works all day and don’t 
have no leisure to drop in here and get themselves prettied up. 

You’re a newcomer, ain’t you? I thought I hadn’t seen you 
round before. I hope you like it good enough to stay. As I say, we 
ain’t no New York City or Chicago, but we have pretty good times. 
Not as good, though, since Jim Kendall got killed. When he was 

* From Political Ideals by Bertrand Russell, copyright, 1917, by the Century Com- 
pany. 



I40 AFFECTIVE COMMUNICATION 

alive, him and Hod Meyers used to keep this town in uproar. 
I bet they was more laughin’ done here than any town its size in 
America. . . 

The rest of the story will be found in The Love Nest and Other 
Stories, by Ring Lardner, Charles Scribner’s Sons, New York. 

Andrea del Sarto 
called u The Faultless Painter” 

But do not let us quarrel any more, 

No, my Lucrezia; bear with me for once: 

Sit down and all shall happen as you wish. 

You turn your face, but does it bring your heart? 

Fll work then for your friend’s friend, never fear, 

Treat his own subject after his own way, 

Fix his own time, accept, too, his own price, 

And shut the money into this small hand 
When next it takes mine. . . . 

The rest of this poem will be found in The Poems of Robert Browning . 

Miss Brill 

Although it was so brilliantly fine — the blue sky powdered with 
gold and great spots of light like white wine splashed over the 
Jardins Pubiiques — Miss Brill was glad she had decided on the fur. 
The air was motionless, but when you opened your mouth there 
was just a faint chill, like a chill from a glass of iced water before 
you sip, and now and again a leaf came drifting — from nowhere, 
from the sky. Miss Brill put up her hand and touched her fur. 
Dear little thing! It was nice to feel it again. She had taken it out 
of its box that afternoon, shaken out the moth-powdei, given it a 
good brush, and rubbed the life back into the dim litde eyes. 
“What has been happening to me?” said the sad little eyes. Oh, 
how sweet it was to see them snap back at her again from the red 
eiderdown! . . . But the nose, which was of some black composi- 
tion, wasn’t at all firm. It must have had a knock, somehow. Never 
mind — a little dab of black sealing-wax when the time came — 
when it was absolutely necessary . . . Little rogue! Yes, she really 
felt like that about it. Little rogue biting its tail just by her left 
ear. She could have taken it off and laid it on her lap and stroked 
it. She felt a tingling in her hands and arms, but that came from 
walking, she supposed. And when she breathed, something light 



APPLICATIONS 141 

and sad — no, not sad, exactly — something gentle seemed to move 
in her bosom. . . . 

The rest of this story will be found in The Garden Tarty by Katherine 
Mansfield, Constable, London. 

Dr. Vinton 

The sea pleased Dr. Vinton as no other single element ever had. 
He was up very early the first morning of the voyage, all shaved 
and dressed and ready before the room stewards had finished 
wiping down the corridors. It was a calm morning, a steady morn- 
ing, and the alley-ways were humming with the faint note of 
progress that always fills a ship. Dr. Vinton was gratified to dis- 
cover a calm sea through his porthole, and when he stepped forth 
from his state-room he was glad to find men already at work. 

This feeling of satisfaction, of benignity, extended outward to- 
ward the world and toward his fellow men. 

“Cleaning her up, eh?” he said, passing one of the stewards. 
Fraternization was good at any hour; it was particularly pleasing 
to Dr. Vinton before breakfast. He was glad, too, that he had 
remembered to refer to the ship as “her.” . . . 

The rest of this story will be found in Quo Vadimus ? by E. B. White. 


HI. There are two kinds of identification which a reader may make 
with characters in a story. First, he may recognize in the story-character 
a more or less realistic representation of himself. (For example, the story- 
character is shown misunderstood by his parents, while the reader, be- 
cause of the vividness of the narrative, recognizes his own experiences 
in those of the story-character.) Secondly, the reader may find, by identi- 
fying himself with the story-character, the fulfillment of his own de- 
sires. (For example, the reader may be poor, not very handsome, and not 
popular with girls, but he may find symbolic satisfaction in identifying 
himself with a story-character who is represented as rich, handsome, and 
madly sought after by hundreds of beautiful women.) It is not easy 
to draw hard-and-fast lines between these two kinds of identification, 
but basically the former kind (which we may call “identification by self- 
recognition”) rests upon the similarity of the reader’s experiences with 
those of the story-character, while the latter kind (“identification for 
wish-fulfillment”) rests upon the dissimilarity between the reader’s dull 
life and the story-character’s interesting life. Many (perhaps most) 



142 AFFECTIVE COMMUNICATION 

stories engage (or seek to engage) the reader’s identification by both 
means. 

Study carefully a story in a love-story, confession, or a cowboy adven- 
ture magazine, analyzing plot and characterization to see in what ways 
and to what degree “identification by self-recognition” and “identifica- 
tion for wish-fulfillment” are produced in the reader by the author. 
Do not begin this analysis with literature of greater sophistication or 
higher literary quality, since the mechanisms are most clearly and simply 
revealed in the pulp magazines. 

IV. The above exercise rests on the assumption that the reader, not 
being a pulp magazine fan, will have performed his analysis “from the 
outside,” as one whose own emotions were not involved in the story 
analyzed. Next, the same task of analysis may be performed with a 
story, novel, or play which the reader has found interesting and absorb- 
ing. The reader might ask himself such questions as these: “What in me 
responded to what elements in the story? What does my enthusiasm 
ipr this story reveal about the story and about myself? Ten years from 
now, is it likely that I shall be nearly enough as I am now to continue 
to be moved and delighted by this story?” 

V. Next, the reader might analyze a story or play which he likes 
only moderately , in the light of such questions as these: “Why do I 
respond only slightly to this story? Is there some gap in my own sym- 
pathies or experience? Is there some shortcoming in the story (style, 
improbability of plot, imperfection of plot construction, weakness of 
characterization, factual error, or whatever)?” 

VI. If the reader doesnt identify himself with any of the characters 
or incidents in a story or play — and this is usually the case with satire, 
for instance — and yet he finds it an extremely interesting story, what 
are the means by which the reader’s sympathies and interest are 
engaged? 



9. Art and Tension 


But my position is this: that if we try to discover what the poem 
is doing for the poet , we may discover a set of generalizations as 
to what poems do for everybody . Kenneth burke 

A well-chosen anthology [of verse ] is a complete dispensary of 
medicine for the more common mental disorders, and may be 
used as much for prevention as cure . Robert graves 


Bearing the Unbearable 

Animals know their environment by direct experience only; man 
crystallizes his knowledge and his feelings in phonetic symbolic 
representations; by written symbols he accumulates knowledge and 
passes it on to further generations of men. Animals feed themselves 
where they find food, but man, co-ordinating his efforts with the 
efforts of others by linguistic means, feeds himself abundantly and 
with food prepared by a hundred hands and brought from great 
distances. Animals exercise but limited control over each other, but 
man, again by employing symbols, establishes laws and ethical 
systems, which are linguistic means of establishing order and pre- 
dictability upon human conduct. Acquiring knowledge, securing 
food, establishing social order, these are activities which the biologist 
finds explainable as having a bearing upon survival. For human 
beings, each of these activities involves a symbolic dimension. 

Let us attempt to state the functions of literature in scientifically 
verifiable terms — in other words, in terms of biological “survival 
value.” Granted that this is a difficult task in the present state of 
psychological knowledge, it is necessary that we try to do so, since 
most explanations of the value or necessity of literature (or the 
other arts) take the form of purr-words — which are really no ex- 
planations at all. For example, Wordsworth speaks of poetry as 



144 ART and tension 

“the breath and finer spirit of all knowledge’’; Coleridge speaks of 
it as “the best words in the best order.” The explanations of litera- 
ture given by most teachers and critics follow a similar purr-word 
pattern, usually reducible to “You should read great literature be- 
cause it is very, very great.” If we are to give a scientific account of 
the functions of literature, we shall have to do better than that. 

Having included under the term “literature” all the affective uses 
of language, we find not only as the result of the insights of students 
of literature and critics but also from recent psychological and psy- 
chiatric investigations that, from the point of view of the utterer, 
one of the most important functions of the utterance is the relieving 
of tensions . We have all known the relief that comes from uttering 
a long and resounding series of impolite vocables under the stress 
of great irritation. The same releasing of psychological tensions 
appears to be effected at all levels of affective utterance, if we are 
tp believe what writers themselves have said about the creative proc- 
ess. The novel, the drama, the poem, like the oath or the expletive, 
arise, at least in part, out of internal necessity when the organism 
experiences a serious tension, whether resulting from joy, grief, 
disturbance, or frustration. And, as a result of the utterances made, 
the tension is, to a greater or less degree and perhaps only momen- 
tarily, mitigated. 

A frustrated or unhappy animal can do relatively little about its 
tensions . 1 A human being, however, with an extra dimension (the 
world of symbols) to move around in, not only undergoes experi- 
ence, but he also symbolizes his experience to himself. Our states 
of tension — especially the unhappy tensions — become tolerable as we 
manage to state what is wrong — to get it said — whether to a sym- 
pathetic friend, or on paper to a hypothetical sympathetic reader, 
or even to oneself. If our symbolizations are adequate and sufficiendy 
skillful, our tensions are brought symbolically under control . To 

1 See the account of “substitutive, or symbolic’* behavior ameng cats under con- 
ditions of experimentally induced neurosis in Jules Masserman’s Behavior and 
Neurosis (1943). It can hardly be denied, in the face of Dr. Masserman’s evidence, 
that an extremely rudimentary form of what might be called u pre-poetic” behavior, 
analogous to the treasuring of a lock of a loved one’s hair, is to be found even 
among cats. The cats, when hungry, fondle the push-button that used to trip a 
mechanism that brought them food, although they appear to know (since they 
no longer move to the food box after touching the button) that it no longer works. 



BEARING THE UNBEARABLE 145 

achieve this control, one may employ what Kenneth Burke has 
called “symbolic strategies” — that is, ways of reclassifying our ex- 
periences so that they are “encompassed” and easier to bear . 2 
Whether by processes of “pouring out one’s heart” or by “symbolic 
strategies” or by other means, we may employ symbolizations as 
mechanisms of relief when the pressures of a situation become 
intolerable. 

As we all know, language is social, and for every speaker there 
may be hearers. The result is that an utterance that relieves a tension 
for the speaker can relieve a similar tension, should one happen to 
exist, in the hearer. There is enough similarity in human experience 
in different times and cultures, apparently, so that the symbolic 
manipulation by which John Donne, for example, “encompassed” 
his feelings of guilt in one of his Holy Sonnets enables us too, at 
another time and under another set of circumstances, to encompass 
our feelings of guilt about, in all probability, a different set of sins. 

William Ernest Henley confronted the fact of his chronic invalid- 
ism — he had been ill since childhood and had spent long periods of 
his life in hospitals — by stating, in his well-known poem “Invictus,” 
his refusal to be defeated: 

Out of the night that covers me, 

Black as the pit from pole to pole, 

I thank whatever gods may be 
For my unconquerable soul. 

In the fell clutch of circumstance 
I have not winced nor cried aloud. 

Under the bludgeonings of chance 
My head is bloody, but unbowed. 

Beyond this place of wrath and tears 
Looms but the horror of the shade, 

And yet the menace of the years 
Finds, and shall find me, unafraid. 

2 See Kenneth Burke, Philosophy of Literary Form (1941). An infielder for the 
Chicago White Sox some years ago made four errors in four consecutive chances. 
Naturally, he found his performance difficult to face. His “symbolic strategy” was 
reported by a Chicago Times writer who quoted the inficldcr as saying, “Anyway, 
I bet it's a record l” 



146 


ART AND TENSION 


It matters not how strait the gate, 

How charged with punishments the scroll, 

I am the master of my fate: 

I am the captain of my soul. 

How, at a different time and under different circumstances, other 
people can use Henley’s utterance to take arms against a different 
sea of troubles is shown by the fact that this poem is one of the 
favorite poems of American Negroes and is sometimes recited or 
sung chorally by Negro organizations. The extra meaning added 
to the word “black” in the second line when the poem is said by 
Negroes makes it perhaps an even more pointed utterance for the 
Negro reader than it was for the original author. Indeed, the entire 
poem takes on different meanings depending on what a reader, 
putting himself into the role of the speaker of the poem, projects 
into the words “the night that covers me.” 

Poetry has often been spoken of as an aid to sanity. Kenneth 
Burke calls it “equipment for living.” It would appear that we can 
take these statements seriously and work out their implications in 
many directions. What are, for example, some of the kinds of 
symbolic manipulation by which we attempt to equip ourselves 
in the face of the constant succession of difficulties and tensions, 
great and small, that confront us day by day? 


Some “Symbolic Strategies” 

First of all, of course, there is what is called literary “escape” — 
a tremendous source of literature, poetry, drama, corgi c strips, and 
other forms of affective communication. Edgar Rice Burroughs, 
confined to a sickbed, symbolically traipsed through the jungle, in 
the person of Tarzan, in a series of breath-taking and triumphant 
adventures — and by means of this symbolic compensation made his 
sickbed endurable. At the same time he made life endurable for 
millions of undersized, frustrated, and feeble people. Whatever one 
may think of the author and the readers of the Tarzan stories, it 
is to be emphasized that in order to derive what shabby relief they 



SOME “SYMBOLIC STRATEGIES” I47 

offer from pain or boredom, it takes, both in the telling and in 
the reading of such stories, the symbolic process, and hence a human 
nervous system. 

Let us take another example of symbolic strategy. When an 
angry or disgruntled employee calls his employer a “half-pint 
Hitler,” is he not, in crude fashion, using a “strategy” which, by 
means of introducing his employer (a petty tyrant) into a perspec- 
tive which includes Hitler (a great tyrant), symbolically reduces 
his employer to, as Kenneth Burke would say, manageable propor- 
tions? And did not Dante likewise, unable to punish his enemies 
as they deserved to be punished, symbolically put them in their 
places in the most uncomfortable quarters in Hell? There is a 
world of difference between the completeness and adequacy of 
such a simple epithet as “half-pint Hitler” and Dante’s way of 
disposing of his enemies — and Dante accomplished many more 
things in his po^m besides symbolically punishing his enemies — 
but are they not both symbolic manipulations by means of which 
the utterers derive a measure of relief, or relaxation of psychological 
tensions ? 

Let us take another example. Upton Sinclair was deeply disturbed 
by the stockyards as they were in 1906. One thing he could have 
done would have been to try to forget it; he could have buried 
himself in reading or writing about other things, such as idyllic 
lands long ago and far away or entirely nonexistent — as do the 
readers and writers of escape literature. Another thing he could 
have done would have been, by a different symbolic manipulation, 
to show that present evil was part of greater good “in God’s 
omniscient plan.” This has been the strategy of many religions as 
well as of •mmy authors. Still another possibility would have been 
actually to reform conditions at the stockyards so that he could 
contemplate them with equanimity — but he would have had to be 
an important official in a packing company or in the government 
to initiate a change in conditions. What he did, therefore, was to 
socialize his discontent — pass it on to others — on the very good 
theory that if enough people felt angry or disgusted with the situa- 
tion, they could collectively change the stockyards in such a way 
that one could adjust oneself to them. Sinclair’s novel, The Jungle , 



ART AND TENSION 


I48 

upset so many people that it led to a federal investigation of the 
meat industry and to the enactment of legislation controlling some 
of its practices. 

As is now well known, when anyone continues to experience 
many tensions, and ..these tensions are permitted to accumulate, they 
may lead to more or less serious psychological maladjustment. Ad- 
justment, as modern psychology sees the process, is no static condi- 
tion of unreflective bliss that comes from neither knowing nor caring 
what is wrong with the world. It is a dynamic, day-to-day, moment- 
to-moment process, and it involves changing the environment to 
suit one’s personality as much as it involves adapting one’s feelings 
to existing conditions. The greater resources one has for achieving 
and maintaining adjustment, the more successful will the process 
be. Literature appears to be one of the available resources. 

Both the enjoyment and the production of poetry and literature, 
then, being human symbolic devices employed in the day-to-day 
process of maintaining adjustment and equipping ourselves for 
living, appear to be extensions of our adjustment mechanism be- 
yond those provided for us by that part of our biological equip- 
ment which we have in common with lower animals. If a man 
were to spend years of his life trying to discover the chemical con- 
stituency of salt water without bothering to find out what has 
already been said on the subject in any elementary chemistry book, 
we should say that he was making very imperfect use of the re- 
sources which our symbolic systems have made available to us. 
Similarly, can it not be said that people, worrying themselves sick 
over their individual frustrations, constantly suffering from petty 
irritations and hypertensions, are making extremely imperfect use 
of the available human resources of adjustment wWiE? they fail to 
strengthen and quiet themselves through contact with literature 
and the other arts? 

What all this boils down to, then, is that poetry (along with the 
other arts), whether it be good or bad and at whatever level or 
crudity or refinement, exists .to fulfill a necessary biological function 
for a symbol-using class of life, that of helping us to maintain psy» 
chological health and equilibrium . 



‘equipment for living" 


149 


“Equipment for Living” 

Psychiatrists recognize no distinct classes of the “sane” and the 
“unsane.” Sanity is a matter of degree, and “sane” people are all 
capable of becoming more sane, or less, according to the experiences 
they encounter and the strength and flexibility of the internal 
equipment with which they meet them. Even as one’s physical 
health has to be maintained by food and exercise, it would appear 
that one’s psychological health too has to be maintained in the 
very course of living by “nourishment” at the level of affective 
symbols: literature that introduces us to new sources of delight; 
literature that makes us feel that we are not alone in our misery; 
literature that shows us our own problems in a new light; literature 
that suggests new possibilities for oneself and opens new areas of 
possible experience; literature that offers us a variety of “symbolic 
strategies” by means of which we can “encompass” our situations. 

From such a point of view, certain kinds of literature, like cer- 
tain kinds of processed and manufactured food, can be said to 
look very much like nourishment, but to contain none of the essen- 
tial vitamin ingredients, so that great quantities can be consumed 
without affecting one’s spiritual undernourishment. (One could 
mean by “essential vitamin ingredients” in this context, “maps” of 
actual “territories” of human experience, directives that are both 
realistic and helpful, and so on.) Certain kinds of popular fiction 
claim to throw light upon given problems in life — stories with such 
titles as “The Office Wife — Was She Playing Fair?” — but, like 
patent medicines, these offer apparent soothing to surface symptoms, 
and leave^Tnderlying causes undealt with. Other kinds of fiction, 
like drugs and liquor, offer escape from pain, and again leave 
causes untouched, so that the more of them you take the more you 
need. Fantasy-living-r-which is one of the important characteristics 
of schizophrenia — can be aggravated by the consumption of too 
much of this narcotic literature. Still other kinds of fiction, movies, 
radio stories, and the like, give a false, prettified picture of the 
world — a world that can be adjusted to without effort. But readers 

F 



ART AND TENSION 


I 5° 

who adjust themselves to this unreal v/orld naturally become pro- 
gressively less adjusted to the world as it is. 

These are admittedly oversimplified examples, and it would be a 
disaster to apply too crudely the principle of literature as an aid 
to sanity. An immediate temptation that some might see in this 
principle would be to say that, if literature is an instrument for 
maintaining sanity, the writings of many not-too-sane geniuses will 
have to be thrown out as unhealthy. It would seem, on the con- 
trary, that the symbolic strategies devised by extremely tortured 
people like Dostoevski or Donne or Shelley for the encompassing 
of their situations are valuable in the extreme. They mixed them- 
selves powerful medicines against their ills, and their medicines 
not only help us to encompass whatever similar tortures we may 
be suffering from, but may serve also as antitoxins lest we in future 
have occasion so to suffer. 

Furthermore, when a work of literature is said to be “permanent,” 
“lasting,” or “great,” does it not mean that the symbolic strategy 
by which the author encompassed his disturbance (achieved his 
equilibrium) works for other people troubled by other disturbances 
at other times and places? Is it possible, for example, to read Sin- 
clair’s strategic handling of the Chicago stockyards without aware- 
ness that it applies more or less adequately to other peoples dis- 
turbances about factory workers in Turin, or Manchester, or Kobe, 
or Montreal ? And if it applies especially well to, say, Detroit, does 
not the Detroiter regard Sinclair’s book as having lasting value? 
And if, under changing conditions, there are no longer social situa- 
tions which arouse similar tensions, or if the strategies seem no 
longer adequate, do we not consider the author to be “dated,” if 
not “dead”? 8 But if an author has adequately dealt with tensions 

3 The Jungle is, in the writer’s opinion, very much “dated” in some respects and 
in other respects still powerful. Translated into many languages, it was been widely 
read by working classes all over the world. The symbolic strategics of works of 
great literary art are usually, unlike those of The Jungle , too complex and subtle 
for such a rough analysis as has been attempted here. The Jungle has been chosen 
for discussion because books like this, which are far from being great masterpieces 
and yet give a great deal of profoundly felt insight into segments of human ex- 
perience, are especially helpful in the understanding of the theories of literature 
proposed in this chapiter. The strategies, being not too subtle, can be clearly seen 
%ud described. 



“equipment for living’' 151 

that people under all times and conditions appear to experience, do 
we not call his writings “universal” and “undying”? 

The relationship between literature and life is a subject about 
which little is known scientifically at the present time. Nevertheless, 
in an unorganized way, we all feel that we know something about 
that relationship, since we have all felt the effects of some kind of 
literature at some time in our lives. Most of us have felt, even if we 
have not been able to prove, that harmful consequences can arise 
from the consumption of such literary fare as is offered in the 
movies, in soap operas, in popular magazines, and in the so-called 
comic books. But the imperfection of our scientific knowledge is 
revealed by the fact that, when there is widespread argument as to 
whether or not comic books should be banned, equally imposing 
authorities on both sides are able to “prove” their cases; some say 
that comic books stimulate the child’s imagination in unhealthy 
ways and lead them into crime, while others say that the crimes 
are committed by psychopathic children who would have com- 
mitted them anyway, and that comic books, by offering to normal 
children a symbolic release of their aggressive tendencies, actually 
help to calm them down. It appears to be anybody’s guess. 

Nevertheless, is it not possible that if students of literature and 
psychology approach the problem of the relationship between imag- 
inative representations and human behavior from a mental hygiene 
point of view, they will some day be able to state, in the interests 
of everyday sanity, what kinds of literature contribute to maturity 
and what kinds help to keep us permanently infantile and immature 
in our evaluations? 


Art as Order 

At least one other important element enters into our pleasure both 
in the writing and reading of literature — but about this there is 
still less available scientific knowledge. It pertains to what are called 
the artistic or esthetic values of a work of the imagination. 

In Chapter 8, we spoke of the relationships, for example in a 
novel, of the incidents and characters to each other — that is, the 



ART AND TENSION 


152 

meaningful arrangement of experiences that make a novel different 
from a jumbled narrative. Before we speak of a narrative as a 
“novel” and therefore as a “work of art,” we must be satisfied that, 
regardless of whether or not we could “live the story” through 
imaginative identification with the characters, the incidents are 
arranged in some kind of order. Even if we don’t happen to like 
the story, if we find a complex, but discernible and interesting, 
order to the incidents in a novel, we are able to say, “It certainly 
is beautifully put together.” Indeed, sometimes the internal order 
and neat relationships of the parts to each other in a novel may be 
so impressive that we enjoy it in spite of a lack of sympathy with 
the kinds of incidents or people portrayed. Why is order interesting 
almost of itself? 

The writer would suggest that if an answer is found to this 
question, it will have to be found in terms of human symbolic 
processes and the fact that symbols of symbols, symbols of symbols 
of symbols, and so on, can be manufactured indefinitely by the 
human nervous system. This fact, already explained in Chapter 2 
(and to be explained further in Chapter 10), can be given a special 
application that may enable us to understand the functions of litera- 
ture. 

Animals, as we have remarked, live in the extensional world — 
they have no symbolic world to speak of. There would seem to be 
no more “order” in an animal’s existence than the order of physical 
events as they impinge on its life. Man, however, both lives (at the 
extensional level) and tal\s about his life tQ himself (at the symbolic 
level, either with words, or in the case of painters and musicians 
and dancers, with nonverbal symbols). A human being is not satis- 
fied simply to know his way around extensionally^J^.can hardly 
help talking to himself about what he has seen and felt and done. 

The data of experience, when talked about, are full of contradic- 
tions. Mrs. Robinson loves her children, but ruins them through 
misdirected love; the illiterate peasants of a Chinese village show 
greater social and personal wisdom than the educated people of great 
cities; people say crime doesn’t pay, but in some cases it pays ex- 
tremely well; a young man by temperament a scholar and a poet 
feels compelled to commit a political murder; a faithful wife of 



ART AS ORDER 


153 

twenty years deserts her husband for no apparent reason; a ne’er-do- 
well acts courageously in a dangerous situation — these and a thou- 
sand other contradictions confront us in the course of our lives. Un- 
ordered, and bearing no relationship to each other, our statements 
about experience are not only disconnected, but they are difficult 
to use. 

Insofar as we are aware of these contradictions, this disorder 
among our statements is itself a source of tension. Such contradic- 
tions provide us with no guide to action; hence they leave us with 
the tensions of indecision and bewilderment. These tensions are not 
resolved until we have, by talking to ourselves about our td\ing 
(symbolizing our symbols), “fitted things together,” so that, as we 
say, things don’t seem to be “meaningless” any more. Religions, 
philosophies, science, and art are equally, and through different 
methods, ways of resolving the tensions produced by the contra- 
dictory data of experience by talking about our talking, then talking 
about our talking about our talking, and so on, until some kind of 
order has been established among the data. 

Talking about things, talking about talking, talking about talking 
about talking, etc., represent what we shall call talking at different 
levels of abstraction . The imposition of order upon our pictures of 
the world is, it appears, what we mean by “understanding.” When 
we say that a scientist “understands” something, does it not mean 
that he has ordered his observations at the objective, descriptive, and 
higher inferential levels of abstraction into a workable system in 
which all levels are related to other levels in terms of a few powerful 
generalizations? When a great religious leader or philosopher is 
said to “understand” life, does it not mean that he has also ordered 
his observations into a set of attitudes, often crystallized into exceed- 
ingly general and powerful directives? And when a novelist is said 
to “understand” the life of any segment of humanity (or humanity 
as a whole), has he not also ordered his observations at many dif- 
ferent levels of abstraction — the particular and concrete, the general, 
and the more general? (Fuller explanation of “levels of abstraction” 
will be found in Chapter 10, to follow.) But the novelist presents 
that order not in a scientific, ethical, or philosophical system of 
highly abstract generalizations, but in a set of symbolic experiences 



154 art and tension 

at the descriptive level of affective reports, involving the reader’s 
feelings through the mechanism of identification. And these sym- 
bolic experiences, in the work o£ any competent novelist, are woven 
together to frame a consistent set of attitudes, whether of scorn, or 
compassion, or admiration of courage, or sympathy with the down- 
trodden, or a sense of futility, depending on his outlook. 

Some of the ways of organizing a set of experiences for literary 
purposes are purely mechanical and external: these are the “rules” 
governing the proper construction of the novel, the play, the short 
story, the sonnet, and so on. But more important are the ways of 
organization suggested by the materials of the literary work — the 
experiences which the writer wishes to organize. When the ma- 
terials of a story do not fit into the conventional pattern of a novel, 
the novelist may create a new organization altogether, more suited 
to the presentation of his experiences than the conventional pat- 
terns. In such a case, critics speak of the materials as “creating their 
own form.” The reason a poem, novel, or play assumes the shape it 
ultimately does is the concern of the technical literary critic. He 
studies the interplay of external and internal demands which finally 
shape the materials into a “work of art.” 

To symbolize adequately and then to order into a coherent whole 
one’s experiences constitute an integrative act. The great novelist 
or dramatist or poet is one who has successfully integrated and made 
coherent vast areas of human experience. Literary greatness requires, 
therefore, great extensional awareness of the range of human ex- 
perience as well as great powers of ordering that experience mean- 
ingfully. This is why the discipline of the creative artist is endless: 
there is always more to learn, both about human experience (which 
is the material to be ordered) and about the technj*ju&s .of his craft 
(which are the means of ordering). 

From the point of view of the reader, the fact that language is 
social is again of central importance. The ordering of experiences 
and attitudes accomplished linguistically by the writer produces, in 
the reader, some ordering of his own experiences and attitudes. The 
reader becomes, as a result of this ordering, somewhat better organ- 
ized himself. That’s what art is for. 



APPLICATIONS 


155 


Applications 

1 Compare the following excerpts with the point of view expressed 
in this chapter: 

1. “The end of writing is to instruct; the end of poetry is to instruct 

by pleasing.” — samuel Johnson, Preface to Shakespeare 

2. “A classic is a work which gives pleasure to the minority which is 
intensely and permanently interested in literature. It lives on because 
the minority, eager to renew the sensation of pleasure, is eternally 
curious and is therefore engaged in an eternal process of rediscovery. 
A classic does not survive for any ethical reason. It does not survive 
because it conforms to certain canons, or because neglect would kill it. 
It survives because it is a source of pleasure and because the passionate 
few can no more neglect it than a bee can neglect a flower. The pas- 
sionate few do not read ‘the right things’ because they are right. That 
is to put the cart before the horse. ‘The right things’ are the right things 
solely because the passionate few li\e reading them. . . /* 

“Nobody at all is quite in a position to choose with certainty among 
modern works. To sift the wheat from the chaff is a process that takes 
an exceedingly long time. Modern works have to pass before the bar 
of the taste of successive generations; whereas, with classics, which have 
been through the ordeal, almost the reverse is the case. Your taste has 
to pass before the bar of the classics . That is the point. If you differ with 
a classic, it is you who are wrong, and not the book. If you differ with 
a modern work, you may be wrong or you may be right, but no judge 
is authoritative to decide. Your taste is unformed. It needs guidance 
and it needs authoritative guidance.” 

— Arnold bennett, IJterary Taste: How to Form It 

3. “The view that the mental experience of the reader is the poem 
itself leads to the absurd conclusion that a poem is non-existent unless 
experienced and that it is re-created in every experience. There thus would 
not be one Divine Comedy but as many Divine Comedies as there are 
and were and will be readers. We end in complete skepticism and 
anarchy and arrive at the vicious maxim of De gustibus non est dis - 
putandum . If we should take this view seriously, it would be impossible 
to explain why one experience of a poem by one reader should be 
better than the experience of any other reader and why it is possible 



156 ART AND TENSION 

to correct the interpretation of another reader. It would mean the definite 
end of all teaching of literature which aims at enhancing the under- 
standing and appreciation of a text. . . . 

“The psychology of the reader, however interesting in itself or useful 
for pedagogical purposes, will always remain outside the object of liter- 
ary study — the concrete work of art — and is unable to deal with the 
question of the structure and value of the work of art.” 

— rene wellek and Austin warren, Theory of Literature 

4. “The business of art is to reveal the relation between man and his 
circumambient universe, at the living moment. As mankind is always 
struggling in the toils of old relationships, art is always ahead of the 
‘times,’ which themselves are always far in the rear of the living moment. 

“When van Gogh paints sunflowers, he reveals, or achieves, the vivid 
relation between himself, as man, and the sunflower, as sunflower, at 
that quick moment of time. His painting does not represent the sun- 
flower itself. We shall never know what the sunflower is. And the 
camera will visualize the sunflower far more perfectly than van Gogh 
can. 

“The vision on the canvas is a third thing, utterly intangible and 
inexplicable, the offspring of the sunflower itself and van Gogh himself. 
The vision on the canvas is for ever incommensurable with the canvas, 
or the paint, or van Gogh as a human organism, or the sunflower as a 
botanical organism. You cannot weigh nor measure nor even describe 
the vision on the canvas. . . . 

“It is a revelation of the perfected relation, at a certain moment, be- 
tween a man and a sunflower. . . . And this perfected relation between 
man and his circumambient universe is life itself, for mankind. . . . 
Man and the sunflower both pass away from the moment, in the process 
of forming a new relationship. The relation between all things changes 
from day to day, in a subtle stealth of change. Hence art, which reveals 
or attains to another perfect relationship, will be for ever new. 

“If we think about it, we find that our life consists in this achieving 
of a pure relationship between ourselves and the living universe about 
us. This is how I ‘save my soul’ by accomplishing a pure relationship 
between me and another person, me and other people, me and a nation, 
me and a race of men, me and animals, me and the trees or flowers, me 
and the earth, me and the skies and sun and stars, me and the moon: 
an infinity of pure relations, big and little. . . . This, if we knew it, 
is our life and our eternity: the subtle, perfected relation between me 
and my whole circumambient universe. . . . 



APPLICATIONS 


*57 

“Now here we see the beauty and the great value of the novel. Philos- 
ophy, religion, science, they are all of them busy nailing things down, to 
get a stable equilibrium. Religion, with its nailed down One God . . . ; 
philosophy, with its fixed ideas; science with its ‘laws’: they, all of them, 
all the time, want to nail us on some tree or other. 

“But the novel, no. The novel is the highest example of subtle inter- 
relatedness that man has discovered. . . 

— d. h. Lawrence, “Morality and the Novel,” in Phoenix 

IX. In the light of what has been said in this chapter, study the fol- 
lowing poems to see: 

a. What tensions of his own the author seems to be trying to resolve. 

b . What symbolic strategies he employs. 

c . Whether these strategies might be applicable to other people and 
other situations. 

d. To what extent the author has succeeded in ordering his experiences 
into a coherent, meaningful whole. 

In what particular ways, if any, is each of these poems likely to serve 
as “equipment for living”? 

Ozymandias 

I met a traveler from an antique land 

Who said: Two vast and trunkless legs of stone 

Stand in the desert. Near them, on the sand, 

Half sunk, a shattered visage lies, whose frown, 

And wrinkled lip, and sneer of cold command, 

Tell that its sculptor well those passions read 
Which yet survive, (stamped on these lifeless things), 

The hand that mocked them and the heart that fed; 

And on the pedestal these words appear: 

‘My name is Ozymandias, king of kings; 

Look on my works, ye Mighty, and despair!’ 

Nothing beside remains. Round the decay 
Of that colossal wreck, boundless and bare, 

The lone and level sands stretch far away. — shelley 
On blis Blindness 

When I consider how my light is spent 

E’er half my days in this dark world and wide. 

And that one talent which is death to hide. 

Lodg’d with me useless, though my soul more bent 
To serve therewith my Maker, and present 
My true account, lest he returning chide; 



i 5 8 


ART AND TENSION 


Doth God exact day labour, light deny’d, 

I fondly ask? but patience to prevent 
That murmur soon replies, God doth not need 

Either man’s work or his own gifts ; who best 
Bear his mild yoke, they serve him best : his state 
Is kingly; thousands at his bidding speed. 

And post o’er land and ocean without rest; 

They also serve who only stand and wait . — milton 

Lessons of the War 
NAMING OF PARTS 

Today we have naming of parts. Yesterday, 

We had daily cleaning. And tomorrow morning 
We shall have what to do after firing. But today. 

Today we have naming of parts. Japonica 
Glistens like coral in all of the neighboring gardens, 

And today we have naming of parts. 

This is the lower sling swivel. And this 

Is the upper sling swivel, whose use you will see 

When you are given your slings. And this is the piling swivel. 

Which in your case you have not got. The branches 

Hold in the gardens their silent, eloquent gestures, 

Which in our case we have not got. 

This is the safety-catch, which is always released 
With an easy flick of the thumb. And please do not let me 
See anyone using his finger. You can do it quite easy 
If you have any strength in your thumb. The blossoms 
Are fragile and motionless, never letting anyone see 
Any of them using their finger. 

And this you can see is the bolt. The purpose of *his * 

Is to open the breech, as you see. We can slide it 
Rapidly backwards and forwards; we call this 
Easing the spring. And rapidly backwards and forwards 
The early bees are assaulting and fumbling the flowers: 

They call it easing the Spring. 

They call it easing the Spring: it is perfecdy easy 
If you have any strength in your thumb: like the bolt, 

And the breech, and the cocking-piece, and the point of balance, 



APPLICATIONS 159 

Which in our case we have not got; and the almond-blossom 
Silent in all of the gardens and the bees going backwards and forwards, 
For today we have naming of parts, 

— HENRY REED 


III. Read, ponder, and digest: 

‘Terence, this is stupid stuff: 

You eat your victuals fast enough; 

There can’t be much amiss, ’tis clear, 

To see the rate you drink your beer. 

But oh, good Lord, the verse you make, 
It gives a chap the belly-ache. 

The cow, the old cow, she is dead; 

It sleeps well, the horned head: 

We poor lads, ’tis our turn now 
To hear such tunes as killed the cow. 
Pretty friendship ’tis to rhyme 
Your friends to death before their time 
Moping melancholy mad: 

Come, pipe a tune to dance to, lad.’ 

Why, if ’tis dancing you would be, 
There’s brisker pipes than poetry. 

Say, for what were hop-yards meant. 

Or why was Burton built on Trent? 

Oh many a peer of England brews 
Livelier liquor than the Muse, 

And malt does more than Milton can 
To justify God’s ways to man. 

Ale, man, ale’s the stuff to drink 
For fellows whom it hurts to think: 
Look into the pewter pot 
To see the world as the world’s not. 

And faith, ’tis pleasant till ’tis past: 

The mischief is that ’twill not last. 

Oh I have been to Ludlow fair 
And left my necktie God knows where, 
And carried half way home, or near. 
Pints and quarts of Ludlow beer: 

Then the world seemed none so bad. 



i6o 


ART AND TENSION 

And I myself a sterling lad; 

And down in lovely muck I’ve lain, 
Happy till I woke again. 

Then I saw the morning sky: 

Heigho, the tale was all a lie; 

The world, it was the old world yet, 

I was I, my things were wet, 

And nothing now remained to do 
But begin the game anew. 

Therefore, since the world has still 
Much good, but much less good than ill, 
And while the sun and moon endure 
Luck’s a chance, but trouble’s sure, 

I’d face it as a wise man would, 

And train for ill and not for good. 

Tis true, the stuff I bring for sale 
Is not so brisk a brew as ale: 

Out of a stem that scored the hand 
I wrung it in a weary land. 

But take it: if the smack is sour. 

The better for the embittered hour; 

It should do good to heart and head 
When your soul is in my soul’s stead; 
And I will friend you, if I may 
In the dark and cloudy day. 

There was a king reigned in the East: 
There, when kings will sit to feast, 

They get their fill before they think 
With poisoned meat and poisoned drink. 
He gathered all that springs to birth 
From the many-venomed earth; 

First a little, thence to more, 

He sampled all her killing store; 

And easy, smiling, seasoned sound, 

Sate the king when healths went round. 

They put arsenic in his meat 

And stared aghast to watch him eat; 

They poured strychnine in his cup 
And shook to see him drink it up: 



APPLICATIONS 


They shook, they stared as white’s their shirt: 
Them it was their poison hurt. 

—I tell the tale that I heard told. 
Mithridates, he died old. 


— A. E. HOUSMAN 




BOOK TWO 


Language and Thought 


A great deal of attention has been paid ... to the technical 
languages in which men of science do their specialized thinly 
ing . . . But the colloquial usages of everyday speech, the liter- 
ary and philosophical dialects in which men do their thinking 
about the problems of morals, politics, religion and psychology — 
these have been strangely neglected . We td\ about u mere matters 
' of words ” in a tone which implies that we regard words as things 
beneath the notice of a serious-minded person . 

This is a most unfortunate attitude . For the fact is that words 
play an enormous part in our lives and are therefore deserving 
of the closest study . The old idea that words possess magical 
powers is false; but its falsity is the distortion of a very impor- 
tant truth . Words do have a magical effect — but not in the way 
that the magicians supposed, and not on the objects they were 
trying to influence. Words are magical in the way they affect 
the minds of those who use them. “A mere matter of words ” 
we say contemptuously, forgetting that words have power to 
mould mens thinking, to canalize their feeling, to direct their 
willing and acting. Conduct and character are largely deter- 
mined by the nature of the words we currently use to discuss 
ourselves*and the world around us. 

aldous huxley, Words and Their Meanings 




10. How We Know 
What We Know 


The crucial point to be considered in a study of language be- 
havior is the relationship between language and reality , between 
words and not-words. Except as we understand this relationship, 
we run the grave ris\ of straining the delicate connection be- 
tween words and facts, of permitting our words to go wild, and 
so of creating for ourselves fabrications of fantasy and delusion . 

WENDELL JOHNSON 


Bessie, The Cow 

The universe is in a perpetual state of flux. The stars are in 
constant motion, growing, cooling, exploding. The earth itself is 
not unchanging; mountains are being worn away, rivers are alter- 
ing their channels, valleys are deepening. All life is also a process 
of change, through birth, growth, decay, and death. Even what we 
used to call “inert matter” — chairs and tables and stones— is not 
inert, as we now know, for, at the submicroscopic level, it is a whirl 
of electrons. If a table looks today very much as it did yesterday 
or as it did a hundred years ago, it is not because it has not changed, 
but because the changes have been too minute for our coarse per- 
ception*. To modern science there is no “solid matter.” If matter 
looks “solid” to us, it does so only because its motion is too rapid 
or too minute to be felt. It is “solid” only in the sense that a rapidly 
rotating color chart is “white” or a rapidly spinning top is “standing 
still.” Our senses are extremely limited, so that we constantly have 
to use instruments such as microscopes, telescopes, speedometers, 
stethoscopes, and seismographs to detect and record occurrences 
which our senses are not able to record direcdy. The way in which 



1 66 


HOW WE KNOW WHAT WE KNOW 


we happen to see and feel things is the result of the peculiarities of 
our nervous systems. There are “sights” we cannot see, and, as even 
children know today with their high-frequency dog whistles, 
“sounds” that we cannot hear. It is absurd, therefore, to imagine that 
we ever perceive anything “as it really is.” 

Inadequate as our senses are, with the help of instruments they 
tell us a great deal. The discovery of microorganisms with the use 
of the microscope has given us a measure of control over bacteria; 
we cannot see, hear, or feel radio waves, but we can create and 
transform them to useful purpose. Most of our conquest of the 
external world, in engineering, in chemistry, and in medicine, is 
due to our use of mechanical contrivances of one kind or another 
to increase the capacity of our nervous systems. In modern life, our 
unaided senses are not half enough to get us about in the world. 
We cannot even obey speed laws or compute our gas and electric 
bills without mechanical aids to perception. 

To return, then, to the relations between words and what they 
stand for, let us say that there is before us “Bessie,” a cow. Bessie is 
a living organism, constantly changing, constantly ingesting food 
and air, transforming it, getting rid of it again. Her blood is cir- 
culating, her nerves are sending messages. Viewed microscopically, 
she is a mass of variegated corpuscles, cells, and bacterial organisms; 
viewed from the point of view of modern physics, she is a perpetual 
dance of electrons. What she is in her entirety, we can never know; 
even if we could at any precise moment say what she was, at the 
next moment she would have changed enough so that our descrip- 
tion would no longer be accurate. It is impossible to say completely 
what Bessie or anything else really is. Bessie is no static “object,” 
but a dynamic process. 

The Bessie that we experience, however, is something else again. 
We experience only a small fraction of the total Bessie: the lights 
and shadows of her exterior, her motions, her general configura- 
tion, the noises she makes, and the sensations she presents to our 
sense of touch. And because of our previous experience, we observe 
resemblances in her to certain other animals to which, in the past, 
we have applied the word “cow? 



THE PROCESS OF ABSTRACTING 


167 


The Process of Abstracting 

The “object” of our experience, then, is not the “thing in itself,” 
but an interaction between our nervous systems ( with all their 
imperfections ) and something outside them . Bessie is unique — there 
is nothing else in the universe exactly like her in all respects. But 
our nervous systems, automatically abstracting or selecting from the 
process-Bessie those features of hers in which she resembles other 
animals of like size, functions, and habits, classify her as “cow.” 

When we say, then, that “Bessie is a cow,” we are only noting 
the process-Bessie’s resemblances to other “cows” and ignoring dif- 
ferences . What is more, we are leaping a huge chasm: from the 
dynamic process-Bessie, a whirl of electro-chemico-neural eventful- 
ness, to a relatively static “idea,” “concept,” or word , “cow.” The 
reader is referred to the diagram entitled “The Abstraction Ladder,” 
which he will find on page 169. 1 

As the diagram illustrates, the “object” we see is an abstraction 
of the lowest level, but it is still an abstraction, since it leaves out 
characteristics of the process that is the real Bessie. The word 
“Bessie” (cowi) is the lowest verbal level of abstraction, leaving 
out further characteristics — the differences between Bessie yesterday 
and Bessie today, between Bessie today and Bessie tomorrow — and 
selecting only the similarities. The word “cow” selects only the 
similarities between Bessie (cowi), Daisy (C0W2), Rosie (cows), 
and so on, and therefore leaves out still more about Bessie. The 
word “livestock” selects or abstracts only the features that Bessie 
has in common with pigs, chickens, goats, and sheep. The term 
“farm asset” abstracts only the features Bessie has in common with 
barns, fences, livestock, furniture, generating plants, and tractors, 
and is therefore on a very high level of abstraction. 

The reason we must concern ourselves with the process of ab- 
stracting is that the study of language is all too often regarded as 

1 The “abstraction ladder” is based on “The Structural Differential,” a diagram 
originated by A. Korzybski to explain the process of abstracting. For a fuller ex- 
planation both of the diagram and the process it illustrates, see his Science and San - 
</y: An Introduction to Non* Aristotelian Systems and General Semantics (1933), 
especially Chapter XXV, 



i68 


HOW WE KNOW WHAT WE KNOW 


being a matter of examining such things as pronunciation, spell- 
ing, vocabulary, grammar, and sentence structure. The methods by 
which composition and oratory are taught in old-fashioned school 
systems seems to be largely responsible for this widespread notion 
that the way to study words is to concentrate one’s attention ex- 
clusively on words. 

But as we know from everyday experience, learning language is 
not simply a matter of learning words; it is a matter of correctly 
relating our words to the things and happenings for which they 
stand. We learn the language of baseball by playing or watching 
the game and studying what goes on . It is not enough for a child 
to learn to say “cookie” or “dog”; he must be able to use these 
words in their proper relationship to nonverbal cookies and non- 
verbal dogs before we can grant that he is learning the language. 
As Wendell Johnson has said, “The study of language begins 
properly with a study of what language is about.” 

Once we begin to concern ourselves with what language is about, 
we are at once thrown into a consideration of how the human 
nervous system works. When we call Beau (the Boston terrier), 
Pedro (the Chihuahua), Snuffles (the English bulldog), and Shane 
(the Irish wolfhound) — creatures that differ greatly in size, shape, 
appearance, and behavior — by the same name, “dog,” our nervous 
system has obviously gone to work abstracting what is common to 
them all, ignoring for the time being the differences among them. 


Why We Must Abstract 

This process of abstracting, of leaving characteristics out, is an 
indispensable convenience. To illustrate by still another example, 
suppose that we live in an isolated village of four families, each 
owning a house. A’s house is referred to as maga; B’s house is biyo; 
C’s is kata, and D’s is pelel . This is quite satisfactory for ordinary 
purposes of communication in the village, unless a discussion arises 
about building a new house — a spare one, let us say. We cannot 
refer to the projected house by any one of the four words we have 
for the existing houses, since each of these has too specific a mean- 
ing. We must find a general term, at a higher level of abstraction, 



ABSTRACTION LADDER 


Start reading from the bottom UP 


VIII. “wealth” 


VIII. The word “wealth" is at an extremely 
high level of abstraction, omitting almost all 
reference to the characteristics of Bessie. 


VII. When Bessie is referred to as an “asset,” still 
more of her characteristics arc left out. 


VI. “farm assets ” 


VI. When Bessie is included among “farm assets,” 
reference is made only to what she has in common 
with all other salable items on the farm. 


V. “livestock * 


V. When Bessie is referred to as “livestock,” only those 
characteristics she has in common with pigs, chickens, 
goats, etc., are referred to. 


IV. The word “cow”: stands for the characteristics we 
have abstracted as common to cowi, cow2, C0W3 . . . 
cqw 0 . Characteristics peculiar to specific cows are left out. 


III. 

“Bessie” 


III. The word “Bessie” (cowi): this is the name we give to 
the object of perception of level II. The name is not the 
object; it merely stands for the object and omits reference to 
many of the characteristics of the object. 


II. The cow we perceive: not the word, but the object of ex- 
perience; that which our nervous system abstracts (selects) 
from the totality that constitutes the process-cow. Many of the 
characteristics of the process-cow are left out. 






I. The cow known to science: ultimately consisting of atoms, electrons, etc., 
according to present-day scientific inference. Characteristics (represented by 
circles) arc infinite at this level and ever-changing. This is the process level. 



170 HOW WE KNOW WHAT WE KNOW 

that means “something that has certain characteristics in common 
with maga, biyo, \ata, and pelel, and yet is not A’s, B’s, C’s, or D’s.” 
Since this is much too complicated to say each time, an abbreviation 
must be invented. Let us say we choose the noise, house . Out of such 
needs do our words come — they are a form of shorthand. The inven- 
tion of a new abstraction is a great step forward, since it ma\es 
discussion possible — as, in this case, not only the discussion of a 
fifth house, but of all future houses we may build or see in our 
travels or dream about. 

A producer of educational films once remarked to the writer that 
it is impossible to make a shot of “work.” You can shoot Joe hoeing 
potatoes, Frank greasing a car, Bill spraying paint on a barn, but 
never just “work.” “Work,” too, is a shorthand term, standing, at 
a higher level of abstraction, for a characteristic that a multitude of 
activities, from dishwashing to navigation to running an advertising 
agency to governing a nation, have in common. 

The indispensability of this process of abstracting can again be 
illustrated by what we do when we “calculate.” The word “calcu- 
late” originates from the Latin word calculus, meaning “pebble,” 
and comes to have its present meaning from such ancient practices 
as that of putting a pebble into a box for each sheep as it left the 
fold, so that one could tell, by checking the sheep returning at night 
against the pebbles, whether any had been lost. Primitive as this 
example of calculation is, it will serve to show why mathematics 
works. Each pebble is, in this example, an abstraction representing 
the “oneness” of each sheep — its numerical value. And because we 
are abstracting from extensional events on clearly understood and 
uniform principles, the numerical facts about the pebbles are also, 
barring unforeseen circumstances, numerical facts about die sheep. 
Our r’s and y’s and other mathematical symbols are abstractions 
made from numerical abstractions, and are therefore abstractions of 
still higher level. And they are useful in predicting occurrences and 
in getting work done because, since they are abstractions properly 
and uniformly made from starting points in the extensional world, 
the relations revealed by the symbols will be, again barring unfore- 
seen circumstances, relations existing in the extensional world. 



ON DEFINITIONS 


171 


On Definitions 

Definitions, contrary to popular opinion, tell us nothing about 
things. They only describe people’s linguistic habits; that is, they 
tell us what noises people make under what conditions. Definitions 
should be understood as statements about language. 

House . This is a word, at the next higher level of abstraction, that 
can be substituted for the more cumbersome expression, “Something that 
has characteristics in common with Bill’s bungalow, Jordan’s cottage, 
Mrs. Smith’s tourist home, Dr. Jones’s mansion . . 

Red. A feature that rubies, roses, ripe tomatoes, robins’ breasts, un- 
cooked beef, and lipsticks have in common is abstracted, and this word 
expresses that abstraction. 

Kangaroo. Where the biologist would say “herbivorous mammal, a 
marsupial of the family Macropod id ae,” ordinary people say “kangaroo,” 

Now it will be observed that while the definitions of “house” and 
“red” given here point down the abstraction ladder (see the charts) 
to lower levels of abstraction, the definition of “kangaroo” remains 
at the same level. That is to say, in the case of “house,” we could if 
necessary go and tool \ at Bill’s bungalow, Jordan’s cottage, Mrs. 
Smith’s tourist home, and Dr. Jones’s mansion, and figure out for 
ourselves what features they seem to have in common; in this way, 
we might begin to understand under w r hat conditions to use the 
word “house.” But all we know about “kangaroo” from the above 
is that where some people say one thing, other people say another. 
That is, when we stay at the same level of abstraction in giving a 
definition, we do not give any information, unless, of course, the 
listener or reader is already sufficiently familiar with the defining 
words so that he can work himself dowm the abstraction ladder. 
Dictionaries, in order to save space, have to assume in many cases 
such familiarity with the language on the part of the reader. But 
where the assumption is unwarranted, definitions at the same level 
of abstraction are worse than useless. Looking up “indifference” in 



172 HOW WE KNOW WHAT WE KNOW 

some cheap pocket dictionaries, we find it defined as “apathy”; we 
look up “apathy” and find it defined as “indifference.” 

Even more useless, however, are the definitions that go up the 
abstraction ladder to higher levels of abstraction— the kind most of 
us tend to make automatically. Try the following experiment on an 
unsuspecting friend: 

“What is meant by the word red?” 

“It’s a color.” 

“What’s a color?” 

“Why, it’s a quality things have.” 

“What’s a quality?” 

“Say, what are you trying to do, anyway?” 

You have pushed him into the clouds. He is lost. 

If, on the other hand, we habitually go down the abstraction ladder 
to lower levels of abstraction when we are asked the meaning of a 
words, we are less likely to get lost in verbal mazes; we will tend 
to “have our feet on the ground” and know what we are talking 
about. This habit displays itself in an answer such as this: 

“What is meant by the word red?” 

“Well, the next time you see a bunch of cars stopped at an inter- 
section, look at the traffic light facing them. Also, you might go to the 
fire department and see how their trucks are painted.” 


“Let’s Define Our Terms” 

An extremely widespread instance of an unrealistic (and ulti- 
mately superstitious) attitude toward definitions is foun^ in the 
common academic prescription, “Let’s define our terms so that we 
shall all know what we are talking about.” As we have already 
seen in Chapter 4, the fact that a golfer, for example, cannot define 
golfing terms is no indication that he cannot understand and use 
them. Conversely , the fact that a man can define a large number 
of words is no guarantee that he hriows what objects or operations 
they stand for in concrete situations. People often believe, having 
defined a word, that some kind of understanding has been estab- 



“let’s define our terms” 173 

lished, ignoring the fact that the words in the definition often con- 
ceal even more serious confusions and ambiguities than the word 
defined . If we happen to discover this fact and try to remedy matters 
by defining the defining words, and then, finding ourselves still 
confused, go on to define the words in the definitions of the defining 
words, and so on, we quickly find ourselves in a hopeless snarl. 
The only way to avoid this snarl is to \eep definitions to a minimum 
and to point to extensional levels wherever necessary — and in writ- 
ing and speaking, this means giving specific examples of what we 
are talking about. 

Ultimately, no adequate definition of “apple pie” can be given 
in words — one has to examine and taste an actual apple pie. The 
same goes for more abstract words. If we have never felt love, if 
we have never felt strongly about a moral principle nor felt the 
satisfactions of seeing a moral principle observed, we may verbally 
define “love” or “justice” until doomsday, but we shall still not 
know what they mean. 


Chasing Oneself in Verbal Circles 

In other words, the kind of “thinking” we must be extremely 
wary of is that which never leaves the higher verbal levels of ab- 
straction, the kind that never points down the abstraction ladder 
to lower levels of abstraction and from there to the extensional 
world : 

“What do you mean by democracy ?** 

“Democracy means the preservation of human rights.” 

“What do you mean by rights?'* 

“By rights I mean those privileges God grants to all of us — I mean 
man’s inherent privileges.” 

“Such as?” 

“Liberty, for example.” 

“What do you mean by liberty?** 

“Religious and political freedom ” 

“And what does that mean?” 

“Religious and political freedom is what we have when we do things 
the democratic way.” 



174 HOW WE KNOW WHAT WE KNOW 

Of course it is possible to talk meaningfully about democracy, as 
Jefferson and Lincoln have done, as Charles and Mary Beard do in 
The Rise of American Civilization, as Frederick Jackson Turner 
does in The Frontier in American History, as Lincoln Steffens does 
in his Autobiography, as David Lilienthal does in TV A: Democracy 
on the March — to name only die first examples that come to mind — 
but such a sample as the above is not the way to do it. The trouble 
with speakers who never leave the higher levels of abstraction is 
not only that they fail to notice when they are saying something 
and when they are not; they also produce a similar lack of dis- 
crimination in their audiences. Never coming down to earth, they 
frequendy chase themselves around in verbal circles, unaware that 
they are making meaningless noises. 

This is by no means to say, however, that we must never make 
extensionally meaningless noises. When we use directive language, 
when we talk about the future, when we utter ritual language or 
engage in social conversation, we often make utterances that have 
no extensional verifiability. It must not be overlooked that our 
highest ratiocinative and imaginative powers are derived from the 
fact that symbols are independent of things symbolized, so that 
we are free not only to go quickly from low to extremely high 
levels of abstraction (from “canned peas” to “groceries” to “com- 
modities” to “national wealth”) and to manipulate symbols even 
when the things they stand for cannot be so manipulated (“If all the 
freight cars in the country were hooked up to each other in one 
long line . . .”), but w r e are also free to manufacture symbols at 
will even if they stand only for abstractions made from other ab- 
stractions and not for anything in the extensional world. Mathe- 
maticians, for example, often play with symbols that have no ex- 
tensional content, just to find out what can be done with them; this 
is called “pure mathematics.” And pure mathematics is far from 
being a useless pastime, because mathematical systems that are 
elaborated with no extensional applications in mind often prove 
later to be applicable in useful and unforeseen ways. Mathematicians, 
however, when they are dealing with extensionally meaningless 
symbols, usually know what they are doing. We likewise must know 
what we are doing. 



CHASING ONESELF IN VERBAL CIRCLES 175 

Nevertheless, all of us (including mathematicians), when we 
speak the language of everyday life, often make meaningless noises 
without knowing that we are doing so. We have already seen what 
confusions this can lead to. The fundamental purpose of the abstrac- 
tion ladder, as shown both in this chapter and the next, is to make 
us aware of the process of abstracting. 


The Distrust of Abstractions 

We may, using our abstraction ladder, allocate statements as well 
as words to differing levels of abstraction. “Mrs. Plotz makes good 
potato pancakes” may be regarded as a statement at a fairly low 
level of abstraction, although, to be sure, it leaves out many char- 
acteristics, such as (1) what one means by “goodness” in potato 
pancakes, and (2) w the infrequent occasions when her pancakes fail 
to turn out well. “Mrs. Plotz is a good cook,” is a statement at a 
higher level of abstraction, covering Mrs. Plotz s skill not only with 
potato pancakes, but also with roasts, pickles, noodles, strudels, and 
so on, nevertheless omitting specific mention of what she can ac- 
complish. “Chicago women are good cooks,” is a statement at a still 
higher level of abstraction; it is one that can be made (if at all) on 
the basis of the observation of the cooking of a statistically signifi- 
cant number of Chicago women. “The culinary art has reached a 
high state in America,” would be a still more highly abstract state- 
ment, and if made at all, would have to be based not only on the 
observation of the Mrs. Plotzes of Chicago, New York, San Fran- 
cisco, Denver, Albuquerque, and Chattanooga, but also on the 
observation of the quality of meals served in hotels and restaurants, 
the quality of training given in departments of home economics 
in high schools and colleges, the excellence of the writings on 
culinary art in American books and magazines, and many other 
relevant facts. 

It is to be regretted, although it is understandable, that there 
exists a tendency in our times to speak contemptuously of “mere 
abstractions.” The ability to climb to higher and higher levels of 
abstraction is a distinctively human trait, without which none of 



176 HOW WE KNOW WHAT WE KNOW 

our philosophical or scientific insights would be possible. In order 
to have a science of chemistry, one has to be able to think of “H2O,” 
leaving out of consideration for the time being the wetness of water, 
the hardness of ice, the pearliness of dew, and the other extensional 
characteristics of H2O at the objective level. In order to have a study 
called “ethics,” one has to be able to think of what ethical behavior 
has in common under different conditions and in different civiliza- 
tions; one has to abstract that which is common to the behavior of 
the ethical carpenter, the ethical politician, the ethical businessman, 
the ethical soldier, and that which is common to the laws of conduct 
of the Buddhist, the Judaist, the Confucian, and the Christian. 
Thinking that is most abstract can also be that which is most gen- 
erally useful. The famous injunction of Jesus, “And as ye would 
that men should do to you, do ye also to them likewise,” is, from 
this point of view, a brilliant generalization of more particular 
directives — a generalization at so high a level of abstraction that it 
appears to be applicable to all men in all cultures. 

But high level abstractions acquire a bad reputation because they 
are so often used, consciously or unconsciously, to confuse and 
befuddle people. A grab among competing powers for oil resources 
may be spoken of as “protecting the integrity of small nations.” 
(Remember the “Greater East Asia Co-prosperity Sphere”?) An 
unwillingness to pay social security taxes may be spoken of as 
“maintaining the system of free enterprise.” Depriving the Negro 
of his vote in violation of the Constitution of the United States may 
be spoken of as “preserving states* rights.” The consequence of 
this free, and often irresponsible, use of high level abstractions in 
public controversy and special pleading is that a significant portion 
of the population has grown cynical about all abstractions! 

But, as the abstraction ladder has shown, all we \now is abstrac- 
tions. What you know about the chair you are sitting in is an ab- 
straction from the totality of that chair. When you i,at white bread, 
you cannot tell by the taste whether or not is has been “enriched 
by vitamin B” as it says on the wrapper; you simply have to trust 
that the process (from which the words “vitamin B” are abstracted) 
is actually there. What you know about your wife — even if she has 



THE DISTRUST OF ABSTRACTIONS 177 

been your wife for thirty years — is again an abstraction. Distrusting 
all abstractions simply does not make sense. 

The test of abstractions then is not whether they are “high” or 
“low level” abstractions, but whether they are referrable to lower 
levels. If one makes a statement about “culinary arts in America,” 
one should be able to refer the statement down the abstraction 
ladder to particulars of American restaurants, American domestic 
science, American techniques of food preservation, and so on down 
to Mrs. Plotz in her kitchen. If one makes a statement about “civil 
rights in Wisconsin,” one should know something about national, 
state, and local statutes, about the behavior of policemen, magistrates, 
judges, academic authorities, hotel managers, and the general public 
in Wisconsin, whose acts and whose decisions affect that minimum 
of decent treatment in the courts, in politics, and in society that we 
call “civil rights.” A preacher, a professor, a journalist, or politician 
whose high level abstractions can systematically and surely be re- 
ferred to lower level abstractions is not only talking, he is saying 
something. As Time would say, no windbag, he. 


“Dead-Level Abstracting” 

Professor Wendell Johnson of the State University of Iowa, in his 
People in Quandaries, discusses a linguistic phenomenon which he 
calls “dead-level abstracting.” Some people, it appears, remain more 
or less permanently stuck at certain levels of the abstraction ladder, 
some on the lower levels, some on the very high levels. There are 

those, for example, who go in for “persistent low-level abstracting”; 

9 < «• 

Probably all of us know certain people who seem able to talk on and 
on without ever drawing any very general conclusions. For example, 
there is the back-fence chatter that is made up of he said and then 
I said and then she said and I said and then he said, far into the after- 
noon, ending with, “Well, that’s just what I told him!” Letters describ- 
ing vacation trips frequently illustrate this sort of language, detailing 
places seen, times of arrival and departure, the foods eaten and the 
prices paid, whether the beds were hard or soft, etc. 



178 HOW WE KNOW WHAT WE KNOW 

A similar inability to get to higher levels of abstraction character- 
izes certain types of mental patients who suffer, as Johnson says, 
“a general blocking of the abstracting process.” They go on in- 
definitely, reciting insignificant facts, never able to pull them to- 
gether to frame a generalization to give a meaning to the facts. 

Other speakers remain stuck at higher levels of abstraction, with 
little or no contact with lower levels. Such language remains per- 
manently in the clouds. As Johnson says: 

It is characterized especially by vagueness, ambiguity, even utter 
meaninglessness. Simply by saving various circulars, brochures, free 
copies of “new thought” magazines, etc. ... it is possible to accumu- 
late in a short time quite a sizable file of illustrative material. Much 
more, of course, is to be found on library shelves, on newsstands, and 
in radio programs. Everyday conversation, classroom lectures, political 
speeches, commencement addresses, and various kinds of group forums 
and round-table discussions provide a further abundant source of words 
cut loose from their moorings. [Italics supplied.] 

(The writer heard recently of a course in esthetics given at a 
large middlewestern university in which an entire semester was 
devoted to Art and Beauty and the principles underlying them, and 
during which the professor, even when asked by students, per- 
sistently declined to name specific paintings, symphonies, sculptures, 
or objects of beauty to which his principles might apply. “We are 
interested,” he would say, “in principles, not in particulars ”) 

There are psychiatric implications to dead-level abstracting on 
higher levels, too, since it is inevitable that, when maps proliferate 
wildly without any reference to a territory, the result can only be 
delusion. But whether at higher or lower levels, dead-level ab- 
stracting is, as Johnson says, always dull: 

The low-level speaker frustrates you because he leaves you with no 
directions as to what to do with the basketful of information he has 
given you. The high-level speaker frustrates you because he simply 
doesn’t tell you what he is talking about. . . . Being thus frustrated, 
and being further blocked because the rules of courtesy (or of at- 
tendance at class lectures) require that one remain quietly seated until 
the speaker has finished, there is little for one to do but daydream, 
doodle, or simply Jail asleep. 



“DEAD-LEVEL ABSTRACTING I79 

It is obvious, then, that interesting speech and interesting writing, 
as well as clear thinking and consequent psychological adjustment, 
require the constant interplay of higher and lower level abstractions, 
and the constant interplay of the verbal levels with the nonverbal 
(“object”) levels. In science, this interplay goes on constantly, hy- 
potheses being checked against observations, predictions against 
extensional results. (Scientific writing, however, as exemplified in 
technical journals, offers some appalling examples of almost dead- 
level abstracting — which is the reason so much of it is hard to 
read. Nevertheless, the interplay between verbal and nonverbal, 
experimental levels does continue, or else it would not be science.) 
The work of good novelists and poets also represents this constant 
interplay between higher and lower levels of abstraction. A “sig- 
nificant” novelist or poet is one whose message has a high level of 
general usefulness in providing insight into life; but he gives his 
generalizations an impact and a power to convince through his 
ability to observe and describe actual social situations and states of 
mind. A memorable literary character, such as Sinclair Lewis’s 
George F. Babbitt, has descriptive validity (at a low level of ab- 
straction) as the picture of an individual, as well as a general validity 
as a picture of a “typical” American businessman. The great political 
leader is also one in whom there is interplay between higher and 
lower levels of abstraction. The ward heeler knows politics only at 
lower levels of abstraction: what promises or what acts will cause 
what people to vote as desired; his loyalties are not to principles 
(high-level abstractions) but to persons (e.g., political bosses) and 
immediate advantages (low-level abstractions). The so-called im- 
practical political theorist knows the high-level abstractions (“democ- 
racy,” “cfVil rights” “social justice”) but is not well enough ac- 
quainted with facts at lower levels of abstraction to get himself 
elected county register of deeds. But the political leaders to whom 
states and nations remain permanently grateful are those who were 
able, somehow or other, to achieve simultaneously higher-level aims 
(“freedom,” “national unity,” “justice”) and lower-level aims (“bet- 
ter prices for potato farmers,” “higher wages for textile workers,” 
“judicial reform,” “soil conservation”). 



180 HOW WE KNOW WHAT WE KNOW 

The interesting writer, the informative speaker, the accurate 
thinker, and the well-adjusted individual, operate on all levels of the 
abstraction ladder, moving quickly and gracefully and in orderly 
fashion from higher to lower, from lower to higher — with minds as 
lithe and deft and beautiful as monkeys in a tree. 


Applications 

L Starting with the one at the lowest level of abstraction, arrange the 
following statements in order of increasing abstraction. 

1. I like motoring better than flying. 

2. I like Studebaker cars. 

3. I like American motor cars better than English cars. 

4. I like my 1949 Studebaker Commander four-door sedan. 

5. I like travel. 

1. Joe keeps all our household appliances in working condition. 

2. Joe is a mechanical genius. 

3. Joe is very handy with tools. 

4. Joe is a 100 per cent real American boy. 

5. Yesterday Joe replaced a burned-out condenser in the radio. 

6. Joe is an awfully useful person to have around. 

7. Joe keeps that radio in working condition. 

EL Apply the following terms to events in the extensional world; 
i.e., go down the abstraction ladder to the things and happenings these 
words may point to. 

National honor The Battle of Gettysburg Art 

Sportsmanship Jurisdictional dispute Philosophy 

IEL Analyze, in terms of levels of abstraction, th$ following passages: 

1. “A phobia is a recurrent and persistent fear of a particular object 
or situation which in ‘objective* reality presents no actual danger to the 
subject — although (cf. Case 1) in his unconsciously equated experience 
the patient may conceive the symbolized danger to be overwhelming. 
Phobias, indeed, are originally derived from situation-related fears, and 
differ from the latter only in their ‘rationality/ symbolic spread, and 
generalization to remote aspects of the situation. For instance, fear of 
a rampant tiger is directly understandable, but it is justifiable to con- 



APPLICATIONS 


181 


sider abnormal the reactions of a severely aleurophobic patient who 
exhibits fear within a mile of a well-protected zoo, cannot bear the 
approach of a kitten, and experiences anxiety when any animal of the 
genus Felis is shown on a motion picture screen. In neither the ‘normal* 
or ‘abnormal* instance, be it noted, need the fear be based on a direct 
experience with the ‘object* feared, although in both the tiger is, of 
course, symbolically equated with physical danger. The difference lies 
in this: that the phobia, unlike the fear, is based on no rational con- 
scious reasons whatever, but springs from experiences deeply repressed 
and not necessarily related to a direct attack by a big or little cat at 
any time in the patient’s life. To illustrate: 

“Case 7: Anne A , an eighteen-year-old girl was brought to the 

psychiatric out-patient clinic by her . . •** 

— jules masserman, Principles of Dynamic Psychiatry 

sample analysis: The author starts with a definition of phobia 
that names the general conditions under which a fear may be 
called a phobia,. The second sentence is also general and adds in- 
formation about the origin of a phobia and shows how it differs 
from “situation-related fears.” So far the author seems to be writing 
at a high level of abstraction without much progress up or down 
the abstraction ladder. The third sentence goes, however, down 
the abstraction ladder to a specific example, capable of being 
visualized by the reader (“rampant tiger”) and also gives exam- 
ples of specific situations (zoo, kitten, moving pictures) where 
fear may be termed a phobia. After more general explanations, 
there is a case history of a specific patient, Anne A , re- 

porting facts at still lower (descriptive) levels of abstraction. 
Whether or not other scientists agree with Dr. Masserman in call- 
ing this case a phobia, we at least know that, when he uses the 
word, this is the kind of case he is talking about. So far as rela- 
tionships between higher and lower levels of abstraction are con- 
cerned, this passage is a good extensionally-directed definition of 
phobia. 

2. “A function ... is a table giving the relation between two vari- 
able quantities, where a change in one implies some change in the other. 
The cost of a quantity of meat is a function of its weight; the speed of 
a train, a function of the quantity of coal consumed; the amount of 
perspiration given off, a function of the temperature. In each of these 
illustrations, a change in the second variable: weight, quantity of coal 


G 



182 how we know what we know 

consumed, and temperature, is correlated with a change in the first 
variable: cost, speed, and volume of perspiration. The symbolism of 
mathematics permits functional relationships to be simply and concisely 
expressed. Thus y = x, y ~ x 2 , y = sin x f y = csch x, y = e x are exam- 
ples of functions.” 

— kasner and newman, Mathematics and the Imagination 

3. CONTRACTORS GENERAL (cont’d) 

Amer Home Builders Inc 6236 S Cot Grv MI dwy 3-4212 


American Processors 1623 W Lake MO nro 6-1829 

Amer Roof Truss Co 6850 S Stony Isl PL aza 2-1772 

Ames Arthur E 7416 S Inglsid TR iangl 4-6796 

Amoroso Banny & Sons 933 S Hoyne SE ely 3-7258 

Andersen Agnar 2301 N Keating BE lmnt 5-0900 


— Chicago Classified Telephone Directory 

4. “ Causes of Calamities . By causes of a calamity are meant two 
kinds of conditions. First there is the necessary condition or cause, 
without which the calamity cannot occur. Second, there are supple- 
mentary conditions , that do not hinder or neutralize but rather facili- 
tate the realization of the consequences of the necessary condition, thus 
making the necessary cause a sufficient cause . The necessary cause of 
an infectious disease, say diphtheria, is infection. But if a person is in- 
oculated against it, he may be in closest contact with the germs and 
yet remain uninfected. Inoculation is an adverse supplementary condi- 
tion neutralizing the results of the necessary cause of diphtheria. This is 
the reason why, besides the necessary cause, an absence of adverse, and 
the presence of favoring supplementary conditions also are elements 
of the causation of such a calamity. 

“From this standpoint, the following factors are the necessary causes 
and supplementary conditions of each type of calamity studied. . . . 

" Causes of Famine . Necessary cause: inability of a giveq society to 
procure the food required by all its members. Supplementary conditions: 
A . The unfavorable play of natural forces such as drought, flood, fire, 
earthquakes, invasions of locusts or similar pests, epidemics, and other 
cosmic and biological processes. B . A disastrous constellation of socio- 
cultural forces, e.g., invasion, war, revolution, dislocation of trade and 
commerce, breakdown of transportation and distribution of food, lack 
of organization for a possible food emergency; carelessness, laziness, 
ignorance, etc. 



APPLICATIONS 


i8 3 

“As soon as enough of these supplementary conditions make real the 
potential inability of the society to procure food for its members, famine 
emerges. Its necessary cause remains this inability, but it is actualized 
by different combinations of supplementary conditions/" 

— pitirim a. sorokin, Man and Society in Calamity * 

5. “And Shem lived after he begat Arphaxad five hundred years, and 
begat sons and daughters. 

“And Arphaxad lived five and thirty years, and begat Salah; 

“And Arphaxad lived after he begat Salah four hundred and three 
years, and begat sons and daughters. 

“And Salah lived thirty years, and begat Eber. 

“And Salah lived after he begat Eber four hundred and three years, 
and begat sons and daughters. 

“And Eber lived four and thirty years, and begat Peleg. . . 

— Genesis, 11:11-18 

6. “There is nevertheless a sense in which the modes of signifying are 
interdependent. Wh®n the situation does not itself supply the clues 
needed for the direction of behavior, the organism or other organisms 
may supplement the situation by signs. And if signs in a number of 
modes of signifying are produced, these do depend on each other in 
certain ways. The prescription of an action is not of much help under 
these circumstances unless the object to which the action is to be 
directed is appraised, designated, and identified. There is a sense then 
in which in a highly problematic situation where behavior needs full 
direction, prescriptions require appraisals and appraisals require state- 
ments to a degree to which statements do not require appraisals or ap- 
praisals require prescriptions. To put the same point in another way, 
an organism which requires direction by signs must as a minimum 
have such signs as direct its behavior to the kind of objects it needs and 
their location; it can then try out their relevance and how to act on 
them in fase these ^objects are not further signified appraisively and 
prescriptively. But the organism would often be quite helpless in its 
behavior if it merely had a sign that something was good or must be 
treated in a certain way without this something being designated, for 
behavior would then be without orientation. For this reason prescrip- 
tions rest on appraisals and appraisals on statements in a way in which 
statements do not need to be followed by appraisals and appraisals by 

•From Man and Society in Calamity by Pitirim A Sorokin, published and copy- 
right, 1942, by E. P. Dutton & Co., Inc. 



184 HOW WE KNOW WHAT WE KNOW 

prescriptions. These interrelations will become more evident when we 
consider the relations of such types of discourse as are found in science, 
art, religion; in that context we will also consider the dependence of 
formators upon signs in the other modes of signifying.” 

— Charles w. morris. Signs, Language and Behavior * 

7. “Behold, a sower went forth to sow; 

“And when he sowed, some seeds fell by the wayside, and the fowls 
came and devoured them up: 

“Some fell upon stony places, where they had not much earth: and 
forthwith they sprung up, because they had no deepness of earth: 

“And when the sun was up, they were scorched; and because they 
had no root, they withered away. 

“And some fell among thorns; and the thorns sprung up, and choked 
them: 

“But other fell into good ground, and brought forth fruit, some an 
hundredfold, some sixtyfold, some thirtyfold. 

“Who hath ears to hear, let him hear.” — Matthew, 13:3-9 

8. Let Observation, with extensive view, 

Survey mankind, from China to Peru; 

Remark each anxious toil, each eager strife, 

And watch the busy scenes of crowded life; 

Then say how hope and fear, desire and hate 
O’erspread with snares the clouded maze of fate, 

Where ‘wavering man, betray’d by vent’rous pride 
To tread the dreary paths without a guide, 

As treacherous phantoms in the mist delude, 

Shuns fancied ills, or chases airy good; 

How rarely Reason guides the stubborn choice. 

Rules the bold hand or prompts the suppliant voice; 

How nations sink, by darling schemes oppress’d, 

When Vengeance listens to the fool’s reqiJbst. 

SAMUEL JOHNSON 

9. From u Rain ajter a Vaudeville Show ” 

The last pose flickered, failed. The screen’s dead white 
Glared in a sudden flooding of harsh light 

* Reprinted from Signs, Language and Behavior by Charles Morris by permission 
of the publisher, Prentice-Hall, Inc., 70 Fifth Avenue, New York 11, N. Y. Copy- 
right 1946 by Prentice-Hall, Inc. 



APPLICATIONS 


185 


Stabbing the eyes; and as I stumbled out 
The curtain rose. A fat girl with a pout 
And legs like hams, began to sing “His Mother.” 

Gusts of bad air rose in a choking smother; 

Smoke, the wet steam of clothes, the stench of plush. 

Powder, cheap perfume, mingled in a rush. 

I stepped into the lobby — and stood still 
Struck dumb by sudden beauty, body and will. 

Cleanness and rapture — excellence made plain — 

The storming, thrashing arrows of the rain! 

— STEPHEN VINCENT BENET* 

IV. Alfred Korzybski in Science and Sanity points out that conscious- 
ness of abstracting enables us, among other things, to become aware of 
what happens when we go from low to higher levels of abstraction with 
a single term. For example, to worry about worry or to fear fear may 
lead to morbid responses but, with another group of words, the higher 
level of abstraction reverses or annuls the lower level effects as in “hatred 
of hatred.” Consider the responses that are likely to be the outcome 
when you 

1. are curious about curiosity. 

2. doubt your doubts. 

3. are nervous about your nervousness. 

4. reason about reasoning. 

5. try to know about knowing. 

6. are impatient with your impatience. 

•From Rain after a Vaudeville Show. Copyright, 1918, 1920, 1923, 1925, 1929, 
I93Q> I93i> by Stephen Vincent Benet. 



11. The Little Man 
Who Wasn’t There 


As 1 was going up the stair 
1 met a man who wasnt there . 

He wasnt there again to-day . 

I wish, I wish he d stay away. 

HUGHES MEARNS 

Everybody is familiar with the fact that the ordinary man does 
not see things as they are, but only sees certain fixed types. . . . 
Mr. Walter Sickert is in the habit of telling his pupils that they 
are unable to draw any individual arm because they think of it 
as an arm; and because they think of it as an arm they think 
they know what it ought to be . t. e. hulme 


How Not To Start a Car 

The following story appeared in the Chicago Daily News of 
September 8, 1948: 

Toronto (AP) — Angered when his automobile broke down, Gordon 
Metcalf, 29, smashed his fist through his rear window and died of 
wounds. The coroner said several arteries were severed in the forearm 
of the 200-pound man, and he had suffered serioiffe loss of blood when 
he reached the hospital in a taxicab. The 1927 model car had given 
Metcalf considerable expense and trouble since he bought it a few weeks 
ago, police said. 

Let us examine the mechanism of this man’s reaction. He got angry 
at the car just as he might have got angry at a person, horse, or 
mule that was stubborn and unco-operative. He thereupon pro- 
ceeded to “teach” that car a “lesson.” Although the reaction is un- 



HOW NOT TO START A CAR 


187 

reflecting and automatic, it is nevertheless a rather complicated one, 
since it involves (1) his making up an abstraction about his car 
(“that mean old car”), and then (2) his reacting to his own ab- 
straction rather than to the actualities o £ the car itself. 

People in primitive societies often act in similar ways. When crops 
fail or rocks fall upon them, they “make a deal with” — offer sacri- 
fices to — the “spirits” of vegetation or of the rocks, in order to 
obtain better treatment from them in the future. All of us, however, 
have certain reactions of similar kinds: sometimes, tripping over a 
chair, we kick it and call it names; some people, indeed, when they 
fail to get letters, get angry at the postman. In all such behavior, 
we confuse the abstraction which is inside our heads with that 
which is outside and act as if the abstraction were the event in the 
outside world. We create in our heads an imaginary chair that 
maliciously trips us and then “punish” the extensional chair that 
bears ill will to nobody; we create an imaginary, inferential post- 
man who is “holding back our mail” and bawl out the extensional 
postman who would gladly bring us letters if he had any to bring. 


Confusion of Levels of Abstraction 

In a wider sense, however, we are confusing levels of abstraction 
— confusing that which is inside our heads with that which is out- 
side — all the time. For example, we talk about the yellowness of a 
pencil as if the yellowness were a “property” of the pencil and not 
a product, as we have seen, of the interaction of something outside 
our skins with our nervous systems. We confuse, that is to say, the 
two lowest levels oi the abstraction ladder (see p. 169) and treat 
them as one. Properly speaking, we should not say, “The pencil is 
yellow,” which is a statement that places the yellowness in the 
pencil; we should say instead, “That which has an effect on me 
which leads me to say ‘pencil’ also has an effect on me which leads 
me to say ‘yellow/ ” We don’t have to be that\ precise, of course, in 
the language of everyday life, but it should be observed that the 
latter statement takes into consideration the part our nervous systems 



l88 THE LITTLE MAN WHO WASN’T THERE 

play in creating whatever pictures o£ reality we may have in our 
heads, while the former statement does not. 

Now this habit of confusing that which is inside our skins and 
that which is outside is essentially a relic of prescientific patterns of 
thinking. The more advanced civilization becomes, the more con- 
scious we must be that our nervous systems automatically leave out 
characteristics of the events before us. If we are not aware of char- 
acteristics left out, if we are not conscious of the process of abstract- 
ing, we make seeing and believing a single process . If, for example, 
you react to the twenty-second ratdesnake you have seen in your 
life as if it were identical with the abstraction you have in your 
head as the result of the last twenty-one rattlesnakes you have seen, 
you may not be far out in your reactions. But civilized life provides 
our nervous systems with more complicated problems than rattle- 
snakes to deal with. There is a case cited by Korzybski in Science 
and Sanity of a man who suffered from hay fever whenever there 
were roses in the room. In an experiment, a bunch of roses was 
produced unexpectedly in front of him, and he immediately had a 
violent attack of hay fever, despite the fact that the “roses” in this 
case were made of paper . That is, his nervous system saw-and- 
believed in one operation. 

But words, as we have seen by means of the abstraction ladder, 
are still higher levels of abstraction than the “objects” of experience. 
The more words at extremely high levels of abstraction we have, 
then, the more conscious we must be of this process of abstracting. 
For example, the word “rattlesnake” leaves out every important 
feature of the actual rattlesnake. But if the word is vividly remem- 
bered as part of a whole complex of terrifying experiences with an 
actual rattlesnake, the word itself is capable of arousing" the same 
feelings as an actual rattlesnake. There are people, therefore, who 
turn pale at the word. 1 

1 A recent musical comedy (“High Button Shoes”) contains a routine in which 
a comedian gets an attack of sneezing at the mention of the words “fresh country 
air** and ‘‘ragweed.” The fact that this theme of reacting to words as things is 
extremely common in the humor of comic strips, movies, and radio shows demon- 
strates, I believe, not only that such reactions are widespread, but also that most 
people in the audience have enough of a tendency in this direction to recognize in 
the comedy characterizations an exaggeration of their own reactions . 



CONFUSION OF LEVELS OF ABSTRACTION 189 

This, then, is the origin of word-magic. The word “rattlesnake” 
and the actual creature are felt to be one and the same thing, be- 
cause they arouse the same reactions. This sounds like nonsense, of 
course, and it is nonsense. But from the point of view of a pre- 
scientific logic, it has its justification. As Levy-Bruhl explains in his 
How Natives Thinly, primitive “logic” works on such a principle. 
The creature frightens us; the word frightens us; therefore the 
creature and the word are “the same” — not actually the same, per- 
haps, but there is a “mystic connection” between the two. This 
sense of “mystic connection” is Levy-Bruhl’s term for what we have 
called “necessary connection” in our discussion in Chapter 2 of 
naive attitudes towards symbols. As a consequence of this naivete, 
“mystical power” is attributed to words. There come to be “fearful 
words,” “forbidden words,” “unspeakable words” — words taking on 
the characteristics of the things they stand for. Such feelings as these 
about the power of words are, as we have already seen, probably 
in part responsible for such social phenomena as the strenuous 
campaign in the early 1930’$ to bring back prosperity through fre- 
quent reiteration of the words, “Prosperity is around the corner!” 

The commonest form of this confusion of levels of abstraction, 
however, is illustrated by our reacting to the twenty-second Repub- 
lican we encounter in our lives as if he were identical with the ab- 
straction “Republican” inside our heads. “If he’s Republican, he 
must be O.K.” — or “an old fogey,” we are likely to say, confusing the 
extensional Republican with our abstraction “Republican,” which is 
the product not only of the last twenty-one “Republicans” we have 
met, but also of all that we have been told about “Republicans.” 


“Jews” 

To make the principles clearer, we shall use an example that is 
loaded with prejudices for many people: “Mr. Miller is a Jew ” 
On hearing this, some “Christians” have marked hostile reactions, 
instantaneously, for example, putting themselves on guard against 
Mr. Miller’s expected sharp financial practices. That is to say, a 
‘‘Christian” of this kind confuses his high-level abstraction, “Jew,” 



I90 THE LITTLE MAN WHO WASN’T THERE 

with the extensional Mr. Miller and behaves towards Mr. Miller as if 
he were identical with that abstraction. (See the abstraction ladder, 
p. 169.) “Jew” is only one of thousands upon thousands of abstrac- 
tions which may be applied to Mr. Miller, to whom such terms 
as “left-hander,” “parent,” “amateur golfer,” “teetotaler,” “Bosto- 
nian,” and so on may possibly be equally applied. But the prejudiced 
person is unaware of all but the one abstraction — perhaps in most 
contexts the least important one — “Jew.” Certainly he is unaware 
that “Jew” is one of the most sloppily constructed abstractions in 
the language, i.e., one of the most difficult to refer systematically 
down the abstraction ladder to lower levels of abstraction. (Try it 
some time. Does “Jew” refer to a “race,” a religion, a nationality, a 
physical type, a state of mind, a caste? If not these, what?) 

Now it happens that the word “Jew” has powerful affective 
connotations in Christian culture as the result of a number of his- 
torical accidents associating “Jews” with money. The kinds of 
historical accident that resulted in this association will be discussed 
in a subsequent chapter; for the moment it will suffice to observe 
the way in which the affective connotations of the word are em- 
ployed in such expressions as, “He jewed me out of ten dollars,” 
“Don’t be such a jew’* “I jewed down the price.” In some circles, it 
is not uncommon for mothers to discipline disobedient children by 
saying to them, “If you don’t behave, I’ll sell you to the old Jew 
man.” 

Let us return to our hypothetical Mr. Miller, who has been intro- 
duced as a “Jew.” To a person for whom these affective connotations 
are very much alive — and there are many such— and who habitually 
confuses that which is inside his nervous system with that which is 
outside, Mr. Miller is a man “not to be trusted.” If Mr. Miller suc- 
ceeds in business, that “proves” that “Jews are smart”; if Mr. 
Johansen succeeds in business, it only proves that Mr. Johansen 
is smart. If Mr. Miller fails in business, it is alleged that he neverthe- 
less has “money salted away somewhere.” If Mr. Miller is strange or 
foreign in his habits, that “proves” that “Jews don’t assimilate.” If 
he is thoroughly American — i.e., indistinguishable from other natives 
—he is “trying to pass himself off as one of us.” If Mr. Miller fails 



"jews" 191 

to give to charity, that is because “Jews are tight”; if he gives gen- 
erously, he is “trying to buy his way into society.” If Mr. Miller lives 
in the Jewish section of town, that is because “Jews are so clannish”; 
if he moves to a locality where there are no other Jews, that is be- 
cause “they try to horn in everywhere.” In short, Mr. Miller is 
automatically condemned, no matter who he is or what he does. 

But Mr. Miller may be, for all we know, rich or poor, a wife 
beater or a saint, a stamp collector or a violinist, a farmer or a 
physicist, a lens grinder or an orchestra leader. If, as the result of 
our automatic reactions, we put ourselves on guard about our 
money immediately upon meeting Mr. Miller, we offend a man 

from whom we might have profited financially, morally, or spirit- 
ually, or we may fail to notice his attempts to run off with our wife 
— that is, we shall act with complete inappropriateness to the actual 
situation at hand. Mr. Miller is not identical with our notion of 
“Jew,” whatever our notion of “feu/” may be . The “Jew,” created 
by intensional definition of the word, simply is not there . 


John Doe, the “Criminal” 

Another instance of the confusion of levels of abstraction is to be 
found in cases like this: Let us say that here is a man, John Doe, 
who is introduced as one “who has just been released after three 
years in the penitentiary.” This is already on a fairly high level of 
abstraction, but it is nevertheless a report. From this point, however, 
many people immediately and unconsciously climb to still higher 
levels of abstraction: “John Doe is an ex<onvict . . . he’s a crim- 
inal!” BiJt the word “criminal” is not only on a much higher level 
of abstraction than “the man who spent three years in the peni- 
tentiary,” but it is also, as we have seen before in Chapter 3, a 
judgment, with the implied prediction, “He has committed a crime 
in the past and will probably commit more crimes in future.” The 
result is that when John Doe applies for a job and is forced to 
state that he has spent three years in the penitentiary, prospective 
employers, automatically confusing levels of abstraction, may say to 
him, “You can’t expect me to give jobs to criminals!” 



I92 THE LITTLE MAN WHO WASN’T THERE 

John Doe, for all we know from the report, may have undergone 
a complete reformation or, for that matter, may have been un- 
justly imprisoned in the first place; nevertheless, he may wander 
in vain, looking for a job. If, in desperation, he finally says to him- 
self, “If everybody is going to treat me like a criminal, I might as 
well become one,” and goes out and commits a robbery, the blame 
can hardly be said to be entirely his. 

The reader is familiar with the way in which rumor grows as it 
spreads. Many of the exaggerations of rumor are again due to this 
inability on the part of some people to refrain from climbing to 
higher levels of abstraction — from reports to inferences to judg- 
ments— and then confusing the levels. According to this kind of 
“reasoning”: 

Report . “Mary Smith didn’t get in until two last Saturday night.” 

Inference. “I bet she was out tearing around!’’ 

Judgment . “She’s a worthless hussy. I never did like her looks. I 
knew it the moment I first laid eyes on her.” 

Basing our actions towards our fellow human beings on such hastily 
abstracted judgments, it is no wonder that we frequently make life 
miserable not only for others, but for ourselves. 

As a final example of this type of confusion, notice the difference 
between what happens when a man says to himself, “l have failed 
three times!' and what happens when he says, “I am a failure /" 


Delusional Worlds 

Consciousness of abstracting prepares us in advance for the fact 
that things that look alike are not alike, for the fact that things that 
have the same name are not the same, for the fact that judgments 
are not reports. In short, it prevents us from acting like fools. With- 
out consciousness of abstracting — or rather, without the habit of 
delaying reactions, which is the product of a deep awareness that 
seeing is not believing — we are completely unprepared for the dif- 
ferences between roses and paper roses, between the intensional 



DELUSIONAL WORLDS I93 

“Jew” and the extensional Mr. Miller, between the intensional 
“criminal” and the extensional John Doe. 

Such delayed reactions are a sign of adulthood. It happens, how- 
ever, that as the result of miseducation, bad training, frightening 
experiences in childhood, obsolete traditional beliefs, propaganda, 
and other influences in our lives, all of us have what might be 
termed “areas of insanity” or, perhaps better, “areas of infantilism.” 
There are certain subjects about which we can never, as we say, 
“think straight,” because we are “blinded by prejudice.” Some 
people, for example, as the result of a childhood experience, cannot 
help being frightened by the mere sight of a policeman — any police- 
man; the terrifying “policeman” inside their heads “is” the exten- 
sional policeman outside, who probably has no designs that anyone 
could regard as terrifying. Some people turn pale at the sight of a 
spider — any spider — even a nice, harmless one safely enclosed in a 
bottle. Some people -automatically become hostile at the words “un- 
American,” “fascist,” or “communist.” 

The picture of reality created inside our heads by such uncon- 
sciousness of abstracting is not at all a “map” of any existing “ter- 
ritory.” It is a delusional world. In this never-never land, all “Jews” 
are out to cheat you; all “capitalists” are overfed tyrants, smoking 
expensive cigars and gnashing their teeth at labor unions. In this 
world, too, all snakes are poisonous, automobiles can be disciplined 
by a well-directed sock in the eye, and every stranger with a foreign 
accent is a spy. Some of these people who spend too much of their 
time in such delusional worlds eventually get locked up, but, need- 
less to say, there are many of us still at large. 

How do we reduce such areas of infantilism in our thought ? One 
way is t<* know deeply that there is no “necessary connection” be- 
tween words and what they stand for. For this reason, the study 
of a foreign language is always good for us, even if it has no other 
uses. Other ways have already been suggested: to be aware of the 
process of abstracting and to realize fully that words never “ say air 
about anything , . The abstraction ladder— an adaptation of a diagram 
originated by Alfred Korzybski to illustrate visually the relation- 
ship between words, “objects,” and events — is designed to help us 
understand and remain conscious of the process of abstracting. 



194 THE LITTLE MAN WHO WASN’T THERE 


Applications 

It was suggested at the end of Chapter 2 that examples of language 
in action be collected in a scrapbook or on filing cards. Enough general 
principles of the relationship between language and behavior have now 
been presented to expand the collection to include illustrations of many 
different linguistic principles. The following sample headings will sug- 
gest some of the clippings and quotations one might look for: 

Straight reports. 

Stories featuring inferences, with full awareness that they are in- 
ferences. 

Stories featuring inferences in such a way that they may be mistaken 
for reports. 

Reacting to judgments as if they were reports. 

Shifts of meaning resulting from changes in context. 

Snarl-words and purr-words mistaken for reports. 

Slanting. 

Quarrels over nonsense questions. 

Social conversation. 

Over-reacting to affective connotations of words. 

Directives mistaken for reports. 

Disillusionment caused by directives imperfectly understood. 

Dead-level abstracting. 

Meaningless use of high-level abstractions. 

Higher- and lower-level abstractions properly related. 

Seeing-and-believing. 

The little man who wasn’t there. 

Other headings will occur to the reader as he reviews the chapters to 
follow. The study of the relationships between lahguage and* behavior 
is one that can be pursued at any time anywhere — in an office, at school, 
at church, behind (or in front of) a hosiery counter, at parties, at meet- 
ings, in all one’s reading, and in the course of intimate family or per- 
sonal relationships. Even a desultory collection of examples of language- 
in-action, if carefully noted and pasted down and pondered over, will 
help in enabling the reader to understand what the writer of this book 
is saying and why he wants to say it. Collectors of such examples will 



APPLICATIONS 


195 

no doubt find reasons for wishing to refine, expand, or correct some of 
the statements made in this book. Further progress in the scientific 
study of the relationships between language and behavior depends upon 
such corrections and improvements of the present generalizations. The 
reader’s co-operation is earnestly invited. 



12. The Society 

Behind Our Symbols 


That we should practise what we preach is generally admitted ; 
hut anyone who preaches what he and his hearers practise must 
incur the gravest moral disapprobation . 

LOGAN PEARSALL SMITH 


“One Born Every Minute” 

Most words in everyday discussion and controversy that are laden 
with affective connotations are incredibly complex both in the feel- 
ings they express and the reactions they arouse. In order to under- 
stand, even partially, some of the complexities involved, let us con- 
tinue with our discussion of the word “Jew,” exploring some of the 
socioeconomic bypaths into which it will lead us. Such an explora- 
tion will serve to illustrate how much more we need to know than 
dictionaries can tell us before we begin to know what is behind 
some of the words we use. 

Whenever people of a pre-monetary culture (farmers, fishermen, 
and other rural folk who live on what they produce, swap the sur- 
plus, and rarely handle money) come into contact with people 
skilled in money and credit transactions (those who understand 
bookkeeping, interest, mortgages, notes, banking, and such matters), 
the latter are likely to take advantage of the former. The former are 
handlers of economic things (potatoes, fish, coconuts), and the 
latter are handlers of economic symbols (notes, bills, futures, cover- 
ing the exchange of potatoes, fish, coconuts). The thing-handlers, 
even if they have not been taken advantage of, are likely to feel 
suspicious and uneasy in dealings with the symbol-handlers. The 
former are not skilled in computing interest; many have difficulty 



'"one born every minute” 197 

with simple addition and subtraction; the words in the fine print of 
sales agreements and contracts are over their heads. Hence, the 
thing-handlers usually attribute their financial disappointments to 
the “unscrupulousness” and “cunning” of the shopkeepers, money- 
lenders, and traders. 

The experiences of many Polynesian and Asiatic people with 
skilled Chinese merchants, of rural Japanese with city slickers from 
Tokyo and Osaka, of rural Mediterranean folk with Syrian traders, 
of rural Americans with the “Connecticut Yankee” (who sold, it 
will be remembered, “wooden nutmegs” to unsuspecting yokels), 
of farmers everywhere with bankers, and of rural Americans and 
Europeans with Jewish tradesmen and moneylenders, have been 
very much alike. Those who couldn’t understand figures have re- 
sented (often with good reason) the clever city people who could. 
The words “Chinese merchant,” “Osaka merchant,” “Syrian,” “Con- 
necticut Yankee,” “moneylender,” “banker,” and “Jew,” have there- 
fore had almost identical connotations at various times and in 
various parts of the world. All these words (and there are many 
more like them depending on what part of the world you are in) 
represent, for back-country people, the semiliterate man’s resent- 
ment of the verbally facile urban trader, his baffling percentages 
and papers, and his whole mysterious system of economic symbols. 
The farmer who can never figure out the whys and wherefores 
of all the deductions that make his milk-checks smaller from month 
to month, the miner who is mystified by the fact that the longer 
he works the more money he seems to owe to the company store, 
the Polynesian native who put a cross on a piece of paper only to 
find that he has virtually sold himself into slavery on a plantation — 
all such victims of ignorance have reason to hate the symbol-handler. 

To many illiterate Christian folk, the “Jew” is the classic symbol 
of the hated economic symbol-handler, and they use the word to 
express their resentment of symbol-handlers whether the particular 
symbol-handlers they resent happen to be Jews or not . Jews, a small 
minority in medieval Christendom, were often in symbol-handling 
occupations. There is no mystery why this should have been so. 
Christian prohibitions against Jewish land-ownership prevented 
them from becoming farmers. The exclusion of Jews from craft- 



IC)8 THE SOCIETY BEHIND OUR SYMBOLS 

guilds prevented many of them from going into the organized 
skilled trades. Moreover, a Jew never knew when a pogrom might 
start, which meant that he would have to fly for his life, leaving 
everything behind except his shirt and starting over again in a 
strange town. Skill in trading — that is, the ability to handle economic 
symbols — like the equipment necessary for tailoring or watch-mak- 
ing (also traditional Jewish occupations) —is ^something you can 
take with you when you have to flee. The development of symbol- 
handling (“middleman”) skills was one of the very few economic 
courses open to Jews. 

Furthermore, the medieval Christian world did not tolerate, ex- 
cept to non-Christians, the occupation of banking (moneylending). 
Nevertheless, moneylenders were necessary to the development of 
business. Hence, it became the standard practice of Christians to bor- 
row money from Jews to satisfy their business requirements, mean- 
while calling them names to satisfy their consciences — just as, during 
Prohibition in the United States, it was fairly common practice to 
patronize bootleggers to satisfy one s thirst, meanwhile denouncing 
them for “lawlessness” on all public occasions to satisfy one’s con- 
science. 

In addition, many princes and noblemen who owed large sums 
of money to Jewish moneylenders made the happy discovery that it 
was easy to avoid the payment of their debts by arousing the super- 
stitious populace to torturing and massacring the Jews on the pre- 
text of “crusades against the infidel.” After such incidents, the Jews 
would be either dead or willing to cancel the debts owed them in 
order to save their lives. Such business risks would further increase 
the interest rates, even as the risk of police raids increased the price 
of bootleg liquor. The increased interest rates would further in- 
furiate the Christians. The word “Jew,” therefore, came to have 
increasingly powerful affective connotations, expressing at once the 
terror felt by Christians toward non-Christians and the resentment 
felt by people everywhere toward moneylenders, who are almost 
always felt to be “grasping,” “unscrupulous,” and “cunning.” The 
moral objections to moneylending disappeared, of course, especially 
after people began to found new forms of Christianity, partly in 
order that they might freely engage in that profession. Nevertheless, 



“one born every minute" 199 

the affective connotations of the word “Jew” survived and have 
remained, even to this day, to connect Jews, in the minds of illiterate 
and semiliterate Christians, with the evils of the economic symbol- 
handling occupations . 1 

There has been, then, some reason in history for using the figure 
of the “Jew” as a symbol of the economic symbol-handler. Today, 
however, in a society such as ours almost completely dominated by 
economic symbol-handlers and their subordinates (that is, the entire 
white-collar class, from corporation presidents down, whose days are 
devoted almost entirely to paper-work), it is ridiculous to select 
Jews as being peculiarly representative of the symbol-handling oc- 
cupations. 


Marginal Businessmen 

But well-educated urban people who are symbol-handlers them- 
selves also have prejudices against Jews. They often contend, and 
demonstrate with some evidence, that not all, but a significant 
number, of Jews in business have characteristic ways of behaving 
that they find disagreeable. They feel justified, therefore, in ap- 
proaching Jews with at least a minimum of cautious reservation. 

But the “Jewish” characteristics they describe are not Jewish. What 
they usually describe are the characteristics of marginal businessmen . 
The marginal businessman is one who does not belong in the 
established profitable business of a community. In the United 
States, he is often a fairly recent immigrant or a member of a 
minority group. (Members of the majority don’t have to go 

1 Ever? among literfte Christians who regard themselves as too intelligent to 
share vulgar prejudices, an attenuated form of this identification of Jews as symbol- 
handlers persists to a remarkable degree. Jews, the writer was told by a faculty- 
wife at a tea in a university community recently, are extraordinarily adept at 
handling words and figures and ideas, but they are not skillful in any work re- 
quiring manual dexterity. On another occasion the writer learned from a depart- 
ment manager in a large Jewish-owned department store, first, that his employers 
were very kind and good to him, and secondly, that they, like all Jews, having 
great brains for figures, were much too smart to do any manual work themselves. 
Just as he was saying this, a Jewish stock-clerk staggered by under a huge load of 
shoe boxes. 



20 O THE SOCIETY BEHIND OUR SYMBOLS 

into marginal businesses; they can usually find employment in 
established enterprises.) Starting as a rule with little capital or none, 
marginal businessmen go into neighborhoods that are too unpromis- 
ing or into enterprises that have too uncertain a future for larger, 
established companies to be bothered with. Chili parlors, small 
restaurants (Italian, Greek, Chinese), Jewish dry-goods stores and 
delicatessens, shoe-repairing shops, second-hand and junk businesses 
of all kinds, and almost all services for the Negro trade are the 
commonest examples of marginal business at the present time. Many 
unscheduled airlines are also marginal businesses in the same sense. 

Jewish businessmen in the United States (and in many other 
nations, for discrimination against and persecution of the Jew is 
common throughout Christendom) are largely either in marginal 
enterprises or in enterprises that were marginal until relatively re- 
cently. The predominance of Jews in the ready-to-wear garment 
industry is due to the fact that they got into it at a time when 
most people made their own clothes. They also got started in the 
moving picture business at a time when it was so marginal that 
few people ever imagined that it would ever emerge from the penny 
arcade. Success in marginal business requires one or more of the 
following: (i) finding an undeveloped market that established 
businesses have ignored or overlooked; (2) having the foresight (or 
luck) to get into a type of business that is not profitable now, but 
eventually will be; (3) being sufficiently aggressive, skillful, and 
shrewd in business to survive even under the most unfavorable 
conditions; (4) being willing to work twice as hard as the next man. 

Trying to achieve success in marginal business, then, imposes 
similar disciplines on all people who go into it, regardless of color 
or creed. And similar disciplines produce similar character, traits. 
At the present time, many Negroes in Chicago have become, and 
many more are becoming, successful businessmen, starting in mar- 
ginal enterprises. Among the more recent successful Negro enter- 
prises are insurance (white firms have for a long time turned down 
Negro customers) and publishing (white magazines have rarely 
taken into consideration the interests and wants of the Negro 
reader). Many more successful Negro businesses will no doubt 
follow. What is interesting is that many Negro businessmen who 



MARGINAL BUSINESSMEN 


201 


have submitted to the disciplines of marginal business show most 
of the characteristics popularly attributed to Jews: for example, 
(i) a single-minded absorption with making money, preferably the 
quickest way; (2) extreme aggressiveness and shrewdness, and an 
unwillingness to pay high wages; (3) a tendency to be somewhat 
overproud of the money they have made; (4) a tendency to adhere 
firmly to the principle that “business is business” — in other words, 
a willingness to sacrifice considerations of sentiment or humanitar- 
ianism or even ethics if necessary in the interests of profit. (The 
owner of a marginal, non-network radio station — he was neither a 
Jew nor a Negro — once said to the writer in justifying his broad- 
casting of some questionable advertising, “When we are big and 
rich, well be able to afford to be ethical.”) 

Indeed, America’s reputation throughout the nineteenth century 
as a “money-mad,” “uncultivated,” and “materialistic” society rests 
largely on the fact that America was very much a “land of oppor- 
tunity.” In other words, it was a place where the marginal business- 
man had before him many chances of success, with newly found 
natural resources, new inventions, and large, promising marginal 
areas (such as the frontier) to exploit, offering everyone a constant 
hope of quick riches. The discipline of the marginal businessman 
(rather than that, say, of the corporation official) was the standard 
training of the nineteenth-century American businessman, who 
believed emphatically in the “business is business” principle, who 
believed in being “wide awake,” and who believed in going into 
business for himself and “wearing no man’s collar.” Most of the 
traits that contemporary upper-class Americans find objectionable 
in Jews are traits that were held up for admiration and emulation 
throughout the nineteenth century by the entire American business 
community . 


Climbing the Social Ladder 

The success of a marginal businessman is almost always greeted 
with mixed feelings. He may have become rich, but he has usually 
had to work too hard to have had time to acquire the polish and 



202 THE SOCIETY BEHIND OUR SYMBOLS 

the social mannerisms of those who have had their money longer. 
If he was an immigrant, he may still speak with a foreign accent; 
if he rose from the lower class, he may still retain lower class man- 
ners or tastes; if he started as a lower class immigrant (as many 
successful American marginal businessmen have), he enters the 
society of the wealthy and cultured with two strikes against him. 
As he climbs the socioeconomic ladder, he is subject to the contempt 
of the aristocrat for the parvenu — even if the aristocrat (as is usually 
the case in Chicago) is himself only one generation removed from 
marginal business, his grandpappy being a Swede who ran up a 
small carpentry shop into a big furniture factory. 

The attitudes of the upper class are reflected and often intensified 
in the lower and middle classes of the majority group. The latter 
especially tend to feel that the marginal businessman, by working 
so very hard, uses unfair tactics. The impressive industriousness of 
Japanese market-gardeners in California and of Jewish shopkeepers 
has always aroused resentment on the part of those who prefer to 
stop working after an eight-hour day. The marginal businessman 
is also resented for being “clever.” What is not sufficiently appre- 
ciated is that he has to use his head in order to be able to survive 
at all. 

Today, many Negro children are being told, as Jewish children 
have been told for generations, “You have to be twice as smart and 
work twice as hard as the next man in order to get half as far.” 
Consequently, many more Negro businessmen in the next few 
decades are going to prove (as some have already) to be both ex- 
tremely resourceful and extremely hard-working. But both their 
resourcefulness and their hard work will largely be unnoticed by 
white people, since so many of them “know” that Negroes are stupid 
and lazy. 

The disadvantage of calling the characteristics c£ marginal busi- 
nessmen “Jewish characteristics” lies not only in the errors we may 
make in evaluating individual Jews. An even graver disadvantage 
is the resulting misdirection of attention . The word “Jewish” draws 
attention away from the observation of the effects of economic and 
social pressures as they affect all people. The belief in special “Jew- 



CLIMBING THE SOCIAL LADDER 203 

ish” characteristics is an enormous obstacle to the understanding of 
human nature and society. 


Negro Anti-Semitism 

The prejudices on the part of Negroes against Jews represents 
the ultimate confusion resulting from such socioeconomic facts as 
have been mentioned. In New York, Detroit, and Chicago, many 
shops in Negro neighborhoods are owned by Jews, Negro neighbor- 
hoods being marginal business areas and Jews being often in mar- 
ginal business. A considerable proportion of Negroes in large North- 
ern cities are back-country folk, recently arrived from the rural 
regions of the South. Like rural immigrants from Lithuania, Poland, 
Germany, or Mexico, Negro country folk are capable of being 
victimized by small-loan sharks, sellers of gaudy and short-lived 
“de luxe living and dining room suites,” and merchants who offer 
you a $39.95 watch for one dollar down and a dollar a week for the 
next fifteen years. Hence the resentment of the helpless “thing- 
handler” for the shrewd “symbol-handler” is combined with the 
resentment that any customer must feel for the practices of some 
marginal businessmen. This combined resentment is channeled, as 
the result of the Christian traditions mentioned earlier, against “the 
Jews.” 

(A Chicago Negro who came from the South during World War 
II was complaining of the prices charged by an Italian marginal 
grocer. “The damn Jew,” he said. “But,” his friends said to him, 
“Serrano isn’t a Jew; he’s Italian.” “I don’t care what he is,” he 
answered. “He’s still a Jew to me.”) 

Fortunately, many Jewish businessmen in the Negro communities 
understand the situation. Many have established cordial relation- 
ships and a reputation for fair dealing with customers. They have 
often united to bring pressure to bear on unethical businessmen in 
order to change their practices. Many Jewish businessmen are in the 
forefront of the demand for improved economic opportunities for 
Negroes and have set the example themselves not only by hiring 
Negro help, but also by training Negroes and placing them in 



204 THE SOCIETY BEHIND OUR SYMBOLS 

positions o£ high executive responsibility. However, prejudice being 
as irrational as it is, and marginal business being as exacting as it 
is, the habit of “blaming the Jews” will not quickly die out of the 
Negro community. As Negro businessmen gradually take over the 
business in the Negro community, however, the consumer will dis- 
cover (as some of them are already discovering) that some Negro 
marginal businessmen will display the same extremes of aggressive 
and unscrupulous business conduct that some marginal Jews have 
displayed. In such a case, exploited Negroes will probably develop a 
prejudice against all Negro businessmen — which will not be a very 
much more intelligent reaction, but it will at least take some of the 
heat off the Jews . 2 


Maps Versus Territories 

From the point of view of the ideology of the business commu- 
nity, the fact that marginal businessmen need not remain marginal 
forever is the great fact about America. According to the most 
conservative spokesman of American business, America is a great 
country because a newsboy may some day become the president of 
a large corporation, because a man may start with a peddler’s cart 
and wind up with a big chain of department stores. Such successes 
are a large part of what most of us mean when we say “equality of 
opportunity” and the “free enterprise system.” Moreover, the fact 
that liberals and conservatives alike — and even many socialists — 
promise vehemently to help the “small businessman” attests to the 
universality in America of the belief that the door must never be 
closed to marginal business. Meanwhile, however, the leaders of 
some labor unions — especially some, craft unions — under cover of 
pious talk about helping “the working man and the small business- 
man,” make it impossible for many a marginal enterprise to operate; 

2 In South Africa, Indians occupy many marginal business positions. When, in 
January 1949, Negro resentment against oppression burst into violence at Durban 
and Johannesburg, the rioting was directed not against the whites, whose oppres- 
sion of Negroes is far worse than is practiced anywhere in the United States, but 
against the Indians. 



MAPS VERSUS TERRITORIES 205 

and associations of powerful (nonmarginal) business interests, also 
under cover of stirring verbalizations about the “little businessman,” 
often send lobbyists to Washington and to state capitals to help big 
businesses get even bigger. 

These mixed attitudes towards the marginal businessman which 
show themselves both in our social life and in business appear to 
rest ultimately on a mixed attitude towards free enterprise itself. 
How free should free enterprise be? Some businessmen mean by 
“free enterprise,” “free and open competition, and let the best man 
win.” Others mean “free to enter into agreements not to compete” 
Still others use either meaning of the word “free” (and several 
other meanings besides) without ever noticing the extent to which 
it covers, in their thinking, entirely contradictory notions. The same 
man who talks with pride of the achievements of the “competitive 
system” often supports “fair trade” agreements (which are agree- 
ments not to compete) and grow furious about the “chiselers” who 
actually compete by the handiest and most obvious device that 
business offers, namely, price-cutting. 

But the businessman is by no means alone in his inconsistency. 
In the conflict of motives and interests in which we are all involved 
in our economic and social life in a highly restless society, main- 
taining orderly relationships between verbal “maps” and nonverbal 
“territories” is an extremely difficult — perhaps for many people a 
hopeless — task. Of course we want everyone to have a chance to be 
rich — but the colored Mr. Jones is getting rich and I am not, so 
damn Jones for not knowing his place! Of course we want the 
little businessman to have the chance to become a big businessman 
—•but we hate “Big Business”! Of course, we want a free com- 
petitive system — but we don’t like the way some people compete 
(i.e., successfully)! Of course, we believe in the dignity of labor — 
but what could that woman have been thinking of, inviting that 
truckdriver’s wife to our A.A.U.W. meeting? Of course, we believe 
in equality and I am certainly as good as anybody else — but the 
nerve of those shanty Irish thinking they’re as good as me! Of 
course, we must show the rest of the world that we are a peace- 
loving nation— but we must have the greatest air fprce in the world 



206 the society behind our symbols 

in addition to the atomic bomb I Of course we believe in the brother- 
hood of man — who the hell says we don’t? 

Inconsistencies of thought and feeling are, perhaps, inevitable in 
human affairs. Our higher-level abstractions are, even in the best 
of us, slightly out of kilter with our lower-level abstractions. But 
both meaningful utterance and personal and social integration de- 
pend upon the existence, as stated in Chapter 8, of orderly relation- 
ships between our higher- and lower-level abstractions. This is a 
thought that should, if properly absorbed, keep the reader quiet for 
at least a week. It has kept the writer quiet, on a number of topics, 
for even longer periods. 


Applications 

Because this chapter has touched on matters about which many people 
have strong feelings, perhaps it will be useful to the reader to go over 
the following statements and indicate which assertions the writer did 
not make in the chapter. 

i. It is better to be an illiterate but honest “thing-handler” than a 
slick and dishonest “symbol-handler.” 

а. City people always try to make suckers of country people. 

3. Jews are smarter than Gentiles and Japanese are smarter than 
either. 

4. You have to be a crook to succeed in marginal business. 

5. Negroes are intelligent and industrious. 

б. There are times when the marginal businessman feels he cannot 
afford to be ethically meticulous. 

7. Some Jewish merchants in the Negro community unfairly exploit 

their Negro customers. • * 

8. Negro customers will be better treated when businesses in the 
Negro community are owned entirely by Negroes. 

9. American business was founded largely by marginal businessmen. 

10. Big businessmen who talk about “free enterprise” are hypocrites. 

11. “Free enterprise” is a meaningless abstraction. 

12. Our socioeconomic problems will be solved if we agree on the 
correct definition of such words as “free enterprise” and “fair business 
practices.” 



APPLICATIONS 207 

13. Most people in America feel that the marginal businessman is 
essential to the free enterprise system. 

14. The free enterprise system contains so many inherent contradic- 
tions that it should be abandoned. 

15. Swedes are social climbers. 

16. The way to abolish race prejudice is to abolish marginal business. 

17. Marginal businessmen, regardless of their racial origin, confront 
similar problems. 

18. Negroes are rarely very intelligent. 

19. A conscientious study of the dictionary definitions of a term gives 
us insight into social processes. 

20. We should all love our fellow men. 



13. Gassification 


When a legal distinction is determined . . . between night and 
day , childhood and maturity, or any other extremes, a point has 
to be fixed or a line has to be drawn, or gradually picked out 
by successive decisions, to mar\ where the change ta\es place . 
Looked at by itself without regard to the necessity behind it, 
the line or point seems arbitrary. It might as well be a little 
more to the one side or the other. But when it is seen that a 
line or point there must be, and that there is no mathematical 
or logical way of fixing it precisely, the decision of the legislature 
must be accepted unless we can say that it is very wide of any 
reasonable mar\. Oliver wendell holmes 

For of course the true meaning of a term is to be found by 
observing what a man does with it, not by what he says about it. 

P. W. BRIDGMAN 

Giving Things Names 

The figure below shows eight objects, let us say animals, four 
large and four small, a different four with round heads and another 
four with square heads, and still another four with curly tails and 
another four with straight tails. These animals, let us say, are 
scampering about your village, but since at first they are of no im- 
portance to you, you ignore them. You do not even give them a 
name. 

<01 I tf. [ cc • 





GIVING THINGS NAMES 209 

One day, however, you discover that the little ones eat up your 
grain, while the big ones do not. A differentiation sets itself up, and 
abstracting the common characteristics of A, B, C, and D, you 
decide to call these go go; E, F, G, and H you decide to call gigi. 
You chase away the go go, but leave the gigi alone. Your neighbor, 
however, has had a different experience; he finds that those with 
square heads bite, while those with round heads do not. Abstracting 
the common characteristics of B, D, F, and H, he calls them daba, 
and A, C, E, and G he calls do bo. Still another neighbor discovers, 
on the other hand, that those with curly tails kill snakes, while 
those with straight tails do not. He differentiates them, abstracting 
still another set of common characteristics: A, B, E, and F are busa, 
while C, D, G, and H are busana. 

Now imagine that the three of you are together when E runs by. 
You say, “There goes the gigi”; your first neighbor says, “There 
goes the dobo” ; your other neighbor says, “There goes the busa ” 
Here immediately a great controversy arises. What is it really, a 
gigi, a dobo , or a busa? What is its right name? You are quarreling 
violently when along comes a fourth person from another village 
who calls it a mugloc\, an edible animal, as opposed to ugloc\, an 
inedible animal — which doesn’t help matters a bit. 

Of course, the question, “What is it really? What is its right 
name?” is a nonsense question. By a nonsense question is meant 
one that is not capable of being answered. Things can have “right 
names” only if there is a necessary connection between symbols and 
things symbolized, and we have seen that there is not. That is to 
say, in the light of your interest in protecting your grain, it may 
be necessary for you to distinguish the animal E as a gigi; your 
neighbcfr, who doesn’t like to be bitten, finds it practical to distin- 
guish it as a dobo; your other neighbor, who likes to see snakes 
killed, distinguishes it as a busa. What we call things and where 
we draw the line between one class of things and another depend 
upon the interests we have and the purposes of the classification. 
For example, animals are classified in one way by the meat industry, 
in a different way by the leather industry, in another different way 
by the fur industry, and in a still different way by the biologist. 



210 


CLASSIFICATION 


None of these classifications is any more final than any of the others; 
each of them is useful for its purpose. 

This holds, of course, regarding everything we perceive. A table 
“is” a table to us, because we can understand its relationship to our 
conduct and interests; we eat at it, work on it, lay things on it. 
But to a person living in a culture where no tables are used, it may 
be a very big stool, a small platform, or a meaningless structure. 
If our culture and upbringing were different, that is to say, our 
world would not even look the same to us. 

Many of us, for example, cannot distinguish between pickerel, 
pike, salmon, smelts, perch, crappies, halibut, and mackerel; we 
say that they are “just fish, and I don’t like fish.” To a seafood 
connoisseur, however, these distinctions are real, since they mean 
the difference to him between one kind of good meal, a very dif- 
ferent kind of good meal, or a poor meal. To a zoologist, even 
finer distinctions become of great importance, since he has other 
and more general ends in view. When we hear the statement, then, 
“This fish is a specimen of the pompano, Trachinotus carolinus” 
we accept this as being “true,” even if we don’t care, not because 
that is its “^ight name,” but because that is how it is classified in 
the most complete and most general system of classification which 
people most deeply interested in fish have evolved. 

When we name something, then, we are classifying. The indi- 
vidual object or event we are naming, of course, has no name and 
belongs to no class until we put it in one . To illustrate again, sup- 
pose that we were to give the extensiond meaning of the word 
“Korean.” We would have to point to all “Koreans” living at a 
particular moment and say, “The word ‘Korean’ denotes at the 
present moment these persons: Ai, A2, A3 . . . An.” Now, let us 
say, a child, whom we shall designate as Z, is born among these 
“Koreans.” The extensional meaning of the word “Korean,” deter- 
mined prior to the existence of Z, does not include Z. Z is a new 
individual belonging to no classification, since all classifications were 
made without taking Z into account. Why, then, is Z also a 
“Korean” ? Because we say so . And, saying so — fixing the classifica- 
tion — we have determined to a considerable extent future attitudes 
toward Z. For example, Z will always have certain rights in Korea; 



GIVING THINGS NAMES 2*1 

he will always be regarded in other nations as an “alien” and will 
be subject to laws applicable to “aliens.” 

In matters of “race” and “nationality,” the way in which classifica- 
tions work is especially apparent. For example, the present writer 
is by “race” a “Japanese,” by “nationality” a “Canadian,” but, his 
friends say, “essentially” an “American,” since he thinks, talks, 
behaves, and dresses much like other Americans. Because he is 
“Japanese,” he is excluded by law from becoming a citizen of the 
United States; because he is “Canadian,” he has certain rights in 
all parts of the British Commonwealth; because he is “American,” 
he gets along with his friends and teaches in an American institu- 
tion of higher learning without any noticeable special difficulties. 
Are these classifications “real”? Of course they are, and the effect 
that each of them has upon what he may and may not do consti- 
tutes their “reality” 

There was, again, the story some years ago of the immigrant 
baby whose parents were “Czechs” and eligible to enter the United 
States by quota. The child, however, because it was born on what 
happened to be a “British” ship, was a “British subject.” The quota 
for Britishers was full for that year, with the result that the new- 
born infant was regarded by immigration authorities as “not ad- 
missible to the United States.” How they straightened out this 
matter, the writer does not know. The reader can multiply instances 
of this kind at will. When, to take another example, is a person a 
“Negro”? By the definition accepted in the United States, any 
person with even a small amount of “Negro blood” — that is, whose 
parents or ancestors were classified as “Negroes” — is a “Negro.” 
It would he exactly as justifiable to say that any person with even 
a small amount of “ white blood ” is “white.” Why do they say one 
rather than the other? Because the former system of classification 
suits the convenience of those making the classification. 

There are few complexities about classifications at the level of 
dogs and cats, knives and forks, cigarettes and candy, but when it 
comes to classifications at high levels of abstraction, for example, 
those describing conduct, social institutions, philosophical and moral 
problems, serious difficulties occur. When one person kills another, 
is it an act of murder, an act of temporary insanity, an act of 



212 


CLASSIFICATION 


homicide, an accident, or an act of heroism? As soon as the process 
of classification is completed, our attitudes and our conduct are to 
a considerable degree determined. We hang the murderer, we lock 
up the insane man, we free the victim of circumstances, we pin a 
medal on the hero. 


The Blocked Mind 

Unfortunately, people are not always aware of the way in which 
they arrive at their classifications. Unaware of the characteristics of 
the extensional Mr. Miller not covered by classifying him as “a 
Jew” and attributing to Mr. Miller all the characteristics suggested 
by the affective connotations of the term with which he has been 
classified, they pass final judgment on Mr. Miller by saying, “Well, 
a Jew’s a Jew. There’s no getting around that!” 

We need not concern ourselves here with the injustices done to 
“Jews,” “Roman Catholics,” “Republicans,” “red-heads,” “chorus 
girls,” “sailors,” “brass-hats,” “Southerners,” “Yankees,” “school 
teachers,” “government regulations,” “socialistic proposals,” and 
so on, by such hasty judgments or, as it is better to call them, fixed 
reactions. “Hasty judgments” suggests that such errors can be 
avoided by thinking more slowly; this, of course, is not the case, 
for some people think very slowly with no better results. What we 
are concerned with is the way in which we block the development 
of our own minds by such automatic reactions. 

To continue with our example of the people who say, “A Jew’s a 
Jew. There’s no getting around that!” — they are, as we have seen, 
confusing the denoted, extensional Jew with the fictitious “Jew” 
inside their heads. Such persons, the reader will have observed, 
can usually be made to admit, on being reminded of certain “Jews” 
whom they admire— perhaps Albert Einstein, perhaps Hank Green- 
berg, perhaps Jascha Heifetz, perhaps Benny Goodman — that “there 
are exceptions, of course.” They have been compelled by experience, 
that is to say, to take cognizance of at least a few of the multitude 
of “Jews” who do not fit their preconceptions. At this point, how- 
ever, they continue triumphantly, “But exceptions only prove the 



THE BLOCKED MIND 


213 

rule!” x — which is another way of saying, “Facts don’t count.” In 
extremely serious cases of people who “think” in this way, it can 
sometimes be observed that the best friends they have may be Isaac 
Cohens, Isidor Ginsbergs, and Abe Sinaikos; nevertheless, in ex- 
plaining this, they will say, “I don’t think of them as Jews at all. 
They’re just friends.” In other words, the fictitious “Jew” inside 
their heads remains unchanged in spite of their experience . 

People like this cannot learn from experience . They continue to 
vote “Republican” or “Democratic,” no matter what the Republi- 
cans or Democrats do. They continue to object to “socialists,” no 
matter what the socialists propose. They continue to regard 
“mothers” as sacred, no matter which mother. A woman who had 
been given up both by physicians and psychiatrists as hopelessly 
insane was being considered by a committee whose task it was to 
decide whether or not she should be committed to an asylum. One 
member of the conlmittee doggedly refused to vote for commitment. 
“Gentlemen,” he said in tones of deepest reverence, “you must 
remember that this woman is, after all, a mother.” Similarly such 
people continue to hate “Protestants,” no matter which Protestant. 
Unaware of characteristics left out in the process of classification, 
they overlook, when the term “Republican” is applied to both the 
party of Abraham Lincoln and the party of Warren Harding, the 
rather important differences between them: “If the Republican party 
was good enough for Abe Lincoln, it’s good enough for mel” 


Cowi Is Not Cow 2 

How«do we prevent ourselves from getting into such intellectual 
blind alleys, or, finding we are in one, how do we get out again? 
One way is to remember that practically all statements in ordinary 
conversation, debate, and public controversy taking the form, “Re- 
publicans are Republicans,” “Business is business,” “Boys will be 

x This extraordinarily fatuous saying originally meant, “The exception tests the 
rule ” — Except io probat regulam. This older meaning of the word “prove** survives 
in such an expression as “automobile proving ground.” 


H 



CLASSIFICATION 


214 

boys,” “Women drivers are women drivers,” and so on, are not 
true . Let us put one of these back into a context in life. 

“I don’t think we should go through with this deal, Bill. Is it alto- 
gether fair to the railroad company ?” 

“Aw, forget it! Business is business, after all.” 

Such an assertion, although it looks like a “simple statement of 
fact,” is not simple and is not a statement of fact. The first “busi- 
ness” denotes transaction under discussion; the second “business” 
invokes the connotations of the word. The sentence is a directive, 
saying, “Let us treat this transaction with complete disregard for 
considerations other than profit, as the word "business’ suggests.” 
Similarly, when a father tries to excuse the mischief done by his 
sons, he says, “Boys will be boys”; in other words, “Let us regard 
the actions of my sons with that indulgent amusement customarily 
extended toward those whom we call "hoys,’” though the angry 
neighbor will say, of course, “Boys, my eye! They’re little hoodlums; 
that’s what they are!” These too are not informative statements but 
directives, directing us to classify the object or event under discus- 
sion in given ways, in order that we may feel or act in the ways 
suggested by the terms of the classification . 

There is a simple technique for preventing such directives from 
having their harmful effect on our thinking. It is the suggestion 
made by Korzybshj that we add " index numbers ” to our terms, 
thus: Englishman 1, Englishman 2, . . . ; cow 1, cow2, cows, . . . ; 
Frenchman 1, Frenchman2 } Frenchman 3, . . . ; communist 1, com- 
munist2 , communists, . . . The terms of the classification tell us 
what the individuals in that class have in common ; the index num- 
bers REMIND US OF THE CHARACTERISTICS LEFT OUT. A rule Can then 
be formulated as a general guide in all our thinking and reading: 
Cow 1 is not cow 2; few 1 is not Jcu>2\ politicianx is not politician 2, 
and so on . This rule, if remembered, prevents us from confusing 
levels of abstraction and forces us to consider the facts on those 
occasions when we might otherwise find ourselves leaping to con- 
clusions which we may later have cause to regret . 



TRUTH 


>) 


215 




“Truth” 

Most intellectual problems are, ultimately, problems of classifica- 
tion and nomenclature. Some years ago there was a dispute between 
the American Medical Association and the Antitrust Division of 
the Department of Justice as to whether the practice of medicine 
was a “profession” or “trade.” • The American Medical Association 
wanted immunity from laws prohibiting “restraint of trade”; there- 
fore, it insisted that medicine is a “profession.” The Antitrust Divi- 
sion wanted to stop certain economic practices connected with 
medicine, and therefore it insisted that medicine is a “trade.” 
Partisans of either side accused the other of perverting the mean- 
ings of words and of not being able to understand plain English. 

Can farmers operate oil wells and still be “farmers”? In 1947 the 
attorney general oFthe state of Kansas sued to dissolve a large agri- 
cultural co-operative. Consumers Co-operative Association, charging 
that the corporation, in owning oil wells, refineries, and pipe-lines, 
was exceeding the statutory privileges of purchasing co-operatives 
under the Co-operative Marketing Act, which permits such organ- 
izations to “engage in any activity in connection with manufactur- 
ing, selling, or supplying to its members machinery, equipment or 
supplies.” The attorney general held that the co-operative, under the 
Act, could not handle, let alone process and manufacture, general 
farm supplies, but only those supplies used in the marketing opera- 
tion. The Kansas Supreme Court decided unanimously in favor of 
the defendant (CCA). In so deciding, the court held that gasoline 
and oil are “farm supplies,” and producing crude oil is “part of the 
business* of farming” 

“This court,” said the decision, “will take judicial notice of the 
fact that in the present state of the art of farming, gasoline ... is 
one of the costliest items in the production of agricultural commodi- 
ties. . . . Anyway, gasoline and tractors are here, and this court is 
not going to say that motor fuel is not a supply necessary to carrying 
on of farm operations. . . . Indeed it is about as well put as can 
be on Page 18 of the state’s Exhibit C where the defendant (CCA) 



21 6 


CLASSIFICATION 


says: ‘Producing crude oil, operating pipe-lines and refineries, are 
also part of the business of farming. It is merely producing synthetic 
hay for iron horses. It is “ off-the-farm farming” which the farmer, 
in concert with his neighbors, is carrying on. . . . Production o£ 
power farming equipment, then, is logically an extension of the 
farmers’ own farming operations.’” (Italics supplied.) 

Is a harmonica player a “musician”? Until 1948, the American 
Federation of Musicians had ruled that the harmonica was a “toy.” 
Professional harmonica players usually belonged, therefore, to the 
American Guild of Variety Artists. Even as distinguished a musician 
as Larry Adler, who has often played the harmonica as a solo in- 
strument with symphony orchestras, was by the union’s definition 
“not a musician.” In 1948, however, the AFM, finding that harmonica 
players were getting popular and competing with members of the 
union, decided that they were “musicians” after all— a decision that 
did not sit well with the president of AGVA, who promptly de- 
clared jurisdictional war on the AFM. 

Is aspirin a “drug” or not? In some states, it is legally classified 
as a “drug,” and therefore can be sold only by licensed pharmacists. 
If people want to be able to buy aspirin in groceries, lunchrooms, 
and pool halls (as they can in other states), they must have it re- 
classified as “not a drug.” 

Is medicine a “profession” or a “trade”? Is the production of crude 
oil “a part of farming”? Is a harmonica player a “musician”? Is 
aspirin a “drug”? The way in which such questions are commonly 
settled is by appeals to dictionaries to discover the “real meanings” 
of the words involved. It is also common practice to consult past 
legal decisions and all kinds of learned treatises bearing on the sub- 
ject. The decision finally rests, however, not upon appeals to past 
authority, but upon what people want. If they want the AMA to be 
immune from antitrust action, they will go to the Supreme Court 
if necessary to get medicine “defined” as a “profession.” If they 
want the AMA prosecuted, they will get a decision that it is a 
“trade.” (They got, in this case, a decision from the Court that it 
did not matter whether the practice of medicine was a “trade” or 
not; what mattered was that the AMA had, as charged, restrained 
the trade of Group Health Association, Inc., a co-operative to procure 



TRUTH 


tc 


yy 


2I 7 


medical services for its members. The antitrust action was upheld.) 

If people want agricultural co-operatives to operate oil wells, they 
will get the courts to define the activity in such a way as to make 
it possible. If the public at large doesn’t care, the decision whether a 
harmonica player is or is not a “musician” will be made by the 
stronger trade union. The question whether aspirin is or is not a 
“drug” will be decided neither by finding the dictionary definition 
of “drug” nor by staring long and hard at an aspirin tablet. It will 
be decided on the basis of where and under what conditions people 
want to buy their aspirin. 

In any case, society as a whole ultimately gets, on all issues of 
wide public importance, the classifications it wants, even if it has 
to wait until all the members of the Supreme Court are dead and 
an entirely new court is appointed. When the desired decision is 
handed down, people say, “Truth has triumphed.” In short, society 
regards as “true” those systems of classification that produce the 
desired results . 

The scientific test of “truth,” like the social test, is strictly prac- 
tical, except for the fact that the “desired results” are more severely 
limited. The results desired by society may be irrational, supersti- 
tious, selfish, or humane, but the results desired by scientists are 
only that our systems of classification produce predictable results. 
Classifications, as amply indicated already, determine our atti- 
tudes and behavior toward the object or event classified. When 
lightning was classified as “evidence of divine wrath,” no courses 
of action other than prayer were suggested to prevent one’s being 
struck by lightning. As soon, however, as it was classified as “elec- 
tricity,” Benjamin Franklin achieved a measure of control over it 
by his invention of the lightning rod. Certain physical disorders were 
formerly classified as “demonic possession,” and this suggested that 
we “drive the demons out” by whatever spells or incantations we 
could think of. The results were uncertain. But when those dis- 
orders were classified as “bacillus infections,” courses of action were 
suggested that led to more predictable results. Science seeks only 
the most generally useful systems of classification; these it regards 
for the time being, until more useful classifications are invented, 
as "true.” 



2i8 


CLASSIFICATION 


Applications 

1. There is a psychological test which can be made the basis for an 
interesting exercise in one’s own home — especially in a home with 
children. Lay on a table an assortment of objects from all over the 
house: hammer, screw driver, toy hammer, toy screw driver, pipe, bubble 
pipe, kitchen equipment, metal spoon, plastic spoon, electrical equip- 
ment parts, scissors, fishing or sports equipment, and so forth, until 
you have twenty-five or more objects. Ask your friends to divide the 
objects into two piles, and to do this at least five times, using different 
systems of classification each time — but don’t suggest the systems. Make 
a note of the systems of classification used and the order in which they 
come (e.g., painted and unpainted; metal and non-metal; toys and non- 
toys). Make notes, too, on the points at which people show marked 
indecision (e.g., do toy hammers belong with tools or non -tools? is an 
object made of hard molded rubber a plastic or a non-plastic?) and 
note also what objects seem to remain unclassifiable. When classifications 
are made that you don’t understand, ask about them. 

Write up the results, drawing any conclusions you can. 

II. i. What is meant when someone says, “What people ordinarily 
call rabbits are really hares, and what they call hares are really rabbits”? 

2. When a corporation is classified as a “person” what are the char- 
acteristics of “persons” (as the word is understood in everyday, non- 
legal speech) attributed to corporations? What are the characteristics of 
“persons” left out of consideration in this classification? 

3. Under what circumstances are tomatoes classified as “fruit” and 
under what circumstances as a “vegetable”? How else can they be 
classified? 

4. When is an athlete an “amateur”? Investigate the rules for de- 
termining “amateur standing” in three or four different areas of sport 
(football, boxing, tennis, polo, and so forth) and the various methods 
used to give substantial compensation to “amateurs” in such ways as 
not to jeopardize their “amateur standing.” Why, in college football, 
do we not put athletes on a straight, professional, salary basis, or, on 
the other hand, make the sport “completely amateur,” i.e., without 
material compensation of any kind? 

5. “Is motherhood an act of God? This question, involving all the 
profundities of metaphysics, faith, and physiology, might well give pause 



APPLICATIONS 


219 

to anyone, however learned. The answer yes would surely affront count- 
less atheists, agnostics. The answer no would just as surely anger 
multitudes of the pious. Yet several men were actually confronted with 
this question last week and expected to make a public reply. 

“Actress Helen Hayes, wife of Playwright Charles MacArthur, lately 
withdrew from the play Coquette, then on the road, saying: ‘I am going 
to have a baby/ Producer Jed Harris ordered the play closed without 
notice. Five members of the cast at once demanded extra salary, said 
that Mr. Harris had violated the rules of Actors’ Equity Association. 

“The question depended on the Equity contract clause stating: ‘The 
management is not responsible for fire, strikes, or an act of God.’ Mr. 
Harris declared the expected MacArthur baby was certainly ‘an act of 
God.’ The protesting actors said it was no such thing. 

“Equity arbitrators then met, discussed God and his acts. Appalled 
by the cosmic dimensions of their dilemma, they adjourned, wordless.” 

— Time , October 7, 1929 

Advise the Equity arbitrators on the course of action most likely to 
secure general approval, 

6. Comment on the following story from the Chicago Sun-Times , 
May 17, 1949: 

“Washington (UP) — The House voted Monday to make the word 
‘wife’ mean ‘husband* too — sometimes. It passed and sent to the Senate 
a bill extending to dependent husbands of woman veterans the same 
pay and privileges given to dependent wives of men veterans. It was 
done by defining the word wife to mean husband, too, when that’s 
necessary.” 

III. Study carefully a page of jokes in a popular magazine, the script 
of a radio variety show, or the text of a musical comedy, and note the 
extent to which hurr^pr is dependent upon sudden and unexpected 
shifts of classification . (For example, a comedy drummer may suddenly 
start beating time on someone’s head, thus reclassifying a head as a 
“musical instrument.”) Here are a few examples to start with: 

1. jim: Who was that lady I seen you with last night? 
slim: That wasn’t no lady. That was my wife. 

2. “Let us not be too particular. It is better to have old second-hand 

diamonds than none at all.” — samuel l. clemens 



220 


CLASSIFICATION 


3. A lady from the West was the dinner guest of an old Boston 
family. 

“Where is it you come from?” asked the hostess. 

“Idaho,” answered the guest. 

“I hope you don’t mind my saying this,” said the hostess, “but in 
Boston we pronounce it ‘Ohio/” 

4. “William Faulkner recalls a ball game once played in Mississippi. 
It was played in a cow pasture and ended abruptly when a runner slid 
into what he thought was third base.” 

— bennett cerf. Try and Stop Me 

5. “A pigeon came home very late for dinner one evening, with his 

feathers bedraggled, and his eyes bloodshot. ‘I was out minding my 
own business,’ he explained, ‘when bingo! 1 get caught in a badminton 
gamer ” — bennett cerf. Try and Stop Me 



14. The Two-Valued Orientation 


People with college educations , the student said , \now more , 
and hence are better judges of people. But aren't you assuming , 
I as\ed, that a college education gives not only what we usually 
call “knowledge” but also what we usually call “shrewdness” 
or “wisdom”? Oh, he said, you mean that there isn't any use 
in going to coll e gel Francis p. chisholm 

Let him [the student ] be made to understand that to confess 
the flaw he discovers in his own argument, though it is still 
unnoticed except by himself, is an act of judgment and sincerity, 
which are the principal qualities he seeks; that obstinacy and 
contention are vulgar qualities , most often seen in meanest 
souls; that to change his mind and correct himself, to give up 
the bad side at the height of his ardor, are rare, strong, and 
philosophical qualities. Montaigne 


In such an expression as “We must listen* to both sides of every 
question,” there is an assumption, frequently unexamined, that 
every question has, fundamentally, only two sides. We tend to think 
in opposites, to feel that what is not “good” must be “bad” and 
that what is not “bad” must be “good.” This feeling is heightened 
when we are excited or angry. During war times, for example, it is 
often felt that whoever is not a “ioo per cent patriot” must be a 
“foreign agent.” Children manifest this same tendency. When they 
are taught English history, for example, the first thing they want 
to know about every ruler is whether he was a “good king” or a 
“bad king.” In popular literature and movie scenarios written for 
childish mentalities, there are always “heroes” on the one hand, 
to be cheered, and “villains” on the other, to be hissed. Much pop- 
ular political thought is based upon the opposition of “American- 
ism” (whatever that may mean) against “foreign -isms” (whatever 
that may mean) . This tendency to see things in terms of two values 



222 


THE TWO - VALUED ORIENTATION 


only, affirmative and negative, good and bad, hot and cold, love 
and hate, may be termed the two-valued orientation. 


The Two-Valued Orientation and Combat 

Now, in terms of a single desire, there are only two values, roughly 
speaking: things that gratify or things that frustrate that desire. 
If we are starving, there are only two kinds of things in the world 
so far as we are concerned at the moment: edible things and in- 
edible things. If we are in danger, there are the things that we fear 
and the things that may help and protect us. At primitive levels of 
existence, in our absorption in self-defense or food -seeking, there 
are, in terms of those limited desires, only two categories possible: 
things that give us pain and things that give us pleasure. Life at 
such levels can be folded neatly down the middle, with all good 
on one side, all bad on the other, and everything is accounted for , 
because things that are irrelevant to our interests escape our notice 
altogether. 

When we are fighting, moreover, we are reduced at once to 
such a twovalued orientation. For the time being, nothing in the 
world exists except ourselves and our opponent. Dinner tomorrow, 
the beauties of the landscape, the interested bystanders — all are for- 
gotten. We fight, therefore, with all the intensity we are capable 
of; our muscles are tense, our hearts heat much faster than usual, 
our veins swell, changes occur in the chemical composition of our 
blood in anticipation of possible damage. Indeed, the two-valued 
orientation, which under conditions of great excitement shows as 
many “physical” manifestations as “mental,” % may be regarded as 
an inevitable accompaniment to combat. 

In the life of many primitive and warlike peoples, whose existence 
is a perpetual fight with the elements, with enemies, with wild 
animals, or with hostile spirits supposed to reside in natural objects, 
the two-valued orientation appears to be the normal orientation. 
Every act of a man’s life in such a society is strictly governed by 
ritual necessity or taboo. There is, as cultural anthropologists have 
shown, little freedom in some types of primitive existence, since 



TWO-VALUED ORIENTATION AND COMBAT 223 

strict compulsions about “good” and “bad” govern every detail of 
life. One must, for example, hunt and fish in specified ways with 
specified ceremonials in order to achieve success; one must avoid 
walking on people’s shadows; one must avoid stirring the pot from 
right to left instead of left to right; one must avoid calling people 
by their given names lest the name be overheard by evil spirits. 
A bird flying over the village is either “good luck” or “bad luck.” 
Nothing is meaningless or accidental under such evaluative systems, 
because everything one sees, if it comes to notice at all, must be 
accounted for under one of the two values. 

The trouble with such thought, of course, is that there is never 
any way of evaluating any new experience, process, or object other 
than by such terms as “good magic” or “bad magic.” Any departure 
from custom is discouraged on the ground that it is “unprecedented” 
and therefore “bad magic.” For this reason, many primitive peoples 
have apparently static civilizations in which each generation dupli- 
cates almost exactly the ways of life of previous generations — hence 
they become what is known as “backward” peoples. They have in 
their language no means of progressing towards new evaluations, 
since all things are viewed only in terms of two sets of values . 1 


The Two- Valued Orientation in Politics 

Under a two-party political system such as we have in the United 
States, there is abundant occasion for uttering two-valued pro- 
nouncements. The writer has often listened to political speeches as 
given over sound-trucks in crowded Chicago streets and been im- 
pressed ^vith the thoroughness with which Republicans (or Demo- 
crats) have been castigated and the Democrats (or Republicans) 
praised. Not a shadow of faint praise or even of extenuation is offered 

x T his is not to say that primitive peoples are “not intelligent.” It simply means 
that lack of cultural intercommunication has deprived them of the opportunity to 
pool their knowledge with other peoples, so that they have had little occasion to 
develop the linguistic machinery which would offer finer evaluations needed for 
the accurate pooling of knowledge. Civilized people, insofar as they are civilized, 
have advanced not because of superior native intelligence, but because they have 
inherited the products of centuries of widest cultural intercommunication. 



224 THE TWO-VALUED ORIENTATION 

to the opposing party. When the writer asked a candidate for state 
representative why this was so, he was told, “Among our folks, it 
don’t pay to be subtle.” Fortunately, most voters regard this two- 
valuedness of political debate as “part of the game,” especially around 
election time, so that it does not appear to have uniformly harmful 
consequences; overstatements on either side are at least partially 
canceled out by overstatements on the other. Nevertheless, there re- 
mains a portion of the electorate — and this portion is by no means 
confined to the uneducated — who take the two-valued orientation 
seriously. These are the people (and the newspapers) who speak 
of their opponents as if they were enemies of the nation rather than 
fellow-Americans with differing views as to what is good for the 
nation. 

On the whole, however, a two-valued orientation in politics is 
difficult to maintain in a two-party system of government. The 
parties have to co-operate with each other between elections and 
therefore have to assume that members of the opposition are some- 
thing short of fiends in human form. The public, too, in a two- 
party system, sees demonstrated the fact that the dire predictions of 
Republicans regarding the probable results of Democratic rule, and 
the equally dire predictions of the Democrats regarding Republican 
rule, are never more than partially fulfilled. Furthermore, criticism 
of the administration is not only possible, it is energetically encour- 
aged by the opposition. Hence the majority of people can never 
quite be convinced that one partv is “wholly good” and the other 
“wholly bad.” 

But whenever a political party feels that it is so entirely right 
that no other party has any business existing — and such a party gets 
control — there is immediate silencing of opposition . In sueh a case 
the party declares its philosophy to be the official philosophy of the 
nation and its interest to be the interests of the people as a whole. 
“Whoever is an enemy of the National Socialist party,” as the Nazis 
said, “is an enemy of Germany.” Even if you loved Germany greatly, 
but still didn’t agree with the National Socialists as to what was 
good for Germany, you were liquidated. Under the one-party sys- 
tem, the two-valued orientation, in its most primitive form, becomes 
the official national outloo\. 



TWO-VALUED ORIENTATION IN POLITICS 225 

Hitler chose as the key terms o£ his system “Aryan,” as repre- 
senting all that was good, and “non-Aryan” (or “Jewish”) as repre- 
senting all that was evil. He and his propaganda ministry went 
systematically to work applying these terms to almost everything 
they could think of. The two-valued assumption is explicitly stated 
over and over again: 

Discussion of matters affecting our existence and that of the nation 
must cease altogether. Anyone who dares to question the rightness of 
the National Socialist outlook will be branded as a traitor. (Herr Sauckel, 
Nazi Governor of Thuringia, June 20, 1933.) 

Everyone in Germany is a National Socialist — the few outside the 
party are either lunatics or idiots. (Adolf Hitler, at Klagenfurt, Austria, 
on April 4, 1938. Quoted by New York Times , April 5, 1938.) 

Everyone not using the greeting “Heil Hitler” or using it only occa- 
sionally and unwillingly, shows he is an opponent of the Fuehrer or a 
pathetic turn-coat . . . The German people’s only greeting is “Heil 
Hitler.” Whoever does not use it must recognize that he will be re- 
garded as outside the community of the German nation. (Labor Front 
chiefs in Saxony, December 5, 1937.) 

National Socialists say: Legality is that which does the German peo- 
ple good; illegality is that which harms the German people. (Dr. Frick, 
Minister of the Interior.) 

Anyone or anything that stood in the way of Hitler’s wishes was 
“Jewish,” “degenerate,” “corrupt,” “democratic,” “internationalist,” 
and, as a crowning insult, “non-Aryan.” On the other hand, every- 
thing that Hitler chose to call “Aryan” was by definition noble, 
virtuous, heroic, and altogether glorious. Courage, self-discipline, 
honor, beauty, health, and joy were “Aryan.” Whatever he called 
upon people to do, he told them to do “to fulfill their Aryan 
heritage.” 

An incredible number of things were examined in terms of this 
two-valued orientation: art, books, people, calisthenics, mathematics, 
physics, dogs, cats, architecture, morals, cookery, religion. If Hitler 
approved, it was “Aryan”; if he disapproved, it was “non-Aryan” 
or “Jewish-dominated.” 



226 THE TWO-VALUED ORIENTATION 

We request that every hen lay 130 to 140 eggs a year. The increase 
can not be achieved by the bastard hens (non-Aryan) which now pop- 
ulate German farm yards. Slaughter these undesirables and replace 
them. . . . (Nazi Party News Agency, April 3, 1937.) 

The rabbit, it is certain, is no German animal, if only for its painful 
timidity. It is an immigrant who enjoys a guest’s privilege. As for the 
lion, one sees in him indisputably German fundamental characteristics. 
Thus one could call him a German abroad. (General Ludendorff, in 
Am Quell Deutscher Kraft,) 

Proper breathing is a means of acquiring heroic national mentality. 
The art of breathing was formerly characteristic of true Aryanism and 
known to all Aryan leaders . . . Let the people again practice the old 
Aryan wisdom. (Berlin Weltpolitische Rundschau , quoted in The 
Nation .) 

Cows or catde which were bought from Jews directly or indirectly 
may not be bred with the community bull. (Mayor of the Community 
of Koenigsdorf, Bavaria. Tegernseerzeitung, Nazi Party organ, October 

h 1935) 

There is no place for Heinrich Heine in any collection of works of 
German poets. . . . When we reject Heine, it is not because we consider 
every line he wrote bad. The decisive factor is that this man was a Jew. 
Therefore, there is no place for him in German literature. ( Schtvarze 
Korps .) 

Because the Japanese were, before and during World War II, 
on friendly terms with Hitler’s Germany, they were classified as 
“Aryans ” This was an absurd enough classification, but of itself 
it probably did little harm to Hitler’s cause. He made the additional 
error, however, of classifying some branches of physics as “Aryan” 
and other branches as “non-Aryan.” It was the ^non-Aryan” physics, 
unfortunately for him, that produced the theories that eventually 
produced the atomic bomb. 

The connection between the two-valued orientation and combat 
is also apparent in the history of Nazism. From the moment Hitler 
achieved power, he told the German people that they were “sur- 
rounded by enemies.” Long before World War II started, the Ger- 
man people were called upon to act as if a war were already in 



TWO-VALUED ORIENTATION IN POLITICS 22 J 

progress. Everyone, including women and children, was pressed 
into “war” service of one kind or another. In order to keep the 
combative sense from fizzling out for want of tangible enemies 
before the start of actual warfare, the people were kept fighting at 
home against alleged “enemies within the gates”: principally the 
Jews, but also anyone else whom the Nazi happened to dislike. 
Education, too, was made explicitly warlike in intent: 

There is no such thing as knowledge for its own sake. Science can 
only be the soldierly training of our minds for service to the nation. 
The university must be a battleground for the organization of the in- 
tellect. Heil Adolf Hitler and his eternal Reich! (Rector of Jena Uni- 
versity.) 

The task of universities is not to teach objective science, but the 
militant, the warlike, the heroic. (Dr. Drieck, headmaster of the Mann- 
heim public schools.) 2 

The official National Socialist orientation never permitted a relaxa- 
tion of the two-valued conviction that nothing is too good for the 
“good,” and nothing is too bad for the “bad,” and that there is no 
middle ground . “Whoever is not for us is against us!” 


Man’s Inhumanity to Man 

The cruelties of the Nazi treatment of Jews and other “enemies” 
—the wholesale executions, the gas chambers, the “scientific” experi- 
ments in torture, starvation, and vivisection performed on political 
prisoners — have often taxed the credulity of the outside world. 
Stories of Nazi prison camps and death chambers are still regarded 
in some quarters a& wartime anti-Nazi fabrications. 

To the student of twovalued orientations, however, these stories 
are credible. If good is “absolutely good” and evil is “absolutely 
evil,” the logic of a primitive, two-valued orientation demands that 
“evil” be exterminated by every means available. Murdering Jews 

2 The National Socialist pronouncements quoted in this chapter are from a col- 
lection of such utterances compiled by Clara Leiscr and published under the tide 
Lunacy Becomes Us, by Adolf Hitler and his Associates (Liveright Publishing Cor- 
poration, 1939). 



228 


THE TWO-VALUED ORIENTATION 


becomes, under this orientation, a moral duty — to be carried out 
systematically and conscientiously. This appears to be,, from the 
evidence produced at the Allied trials of war criminals, how the 
task was regarded. Many Nazi prison guards and executioners car- 
ried out their ghastly tasks, not in rage or in fiendish glee, but 
simply as matters of duty. So completely had the abstraction “Jew” 
blotted out all other perceptions, killing Jews became pretty much 
a matter of course. Aldous Huxley has said that it is the function 
of propaganda to enable people to do in cold blood things that they 
could otherwise do only in the heat of passion. Two-valued propa- 
ganda, seriously believed, has precisely this effect. One becomes 
completely convinced that “the dirty rats have it coming” and that 
“there is only one thing to do with them.” 


The Soviet One-Party System 

There can be no doubt that communism started out in Russia with 
ideals far different from those of such avowed believers in force, 
fraud, and oppression as the German National Socialists. However 
much one may disagree with their views, it is apparent that Karl 
Marx, the ideological father of communism, and Lenin, his most 
influential disciple, were seriously and earnestly devoted to the 
cause of the underdog and looked forward to the day when there 
would be no underdogs (the “classless society”). Nevertheless, the 
Russian communists were so convinced of the rightness of their 
views that they set up a one-party state, defining their own abstrac- 
tions as “Truth” and all dissenting, or partially dissenting, sets of 
abstractions as “wrong,” “evil,” “bourgeois,” and “reactionary ” The 
consequences are well known. The suppression of dissent, the 
“liquidation” of dissenters, the absence of freedom of thought and 
speech, the laying down of official pronouncements as to what is 
permissible not only in political thought but also in artistic, literary, 
philosophical, and scientific thought, have been almost as thorough 
and humorless in Russia as they were in Hitler’s Germany. 

The mechanism of the two-valued orientation requires a one- 
party system (why waste one’s time listening to error when one 



THE SOVIET ONE-PARTY SYSTEM 229 

knows the “Truth”?). The one-party system, in order to maintain 
itself, has to crack down on dissent and to pretend that it never 
makes a mistake. It appears, therefore, that it doesn’t matter much 
whether one starts with noble or ignoble ideals if one is gravely 
two-valued in his approach : the end results are startlingly alike. 

From the official Soviet point of view (as from the Nazi point 
of view just quoted), there is no such thing as knowledge for its 
own sake. Scientific theories, story themes in literature or the movies, 
trends in music or painting, like political opinions, are either praised 
as being “progressive,” “democratic,” “scientific,” “materialist,” 
“heroic,” “socialist,” and “pro-Soviet,” or blamed for being “bour- 
geois,” “decadent,” “idealist” (“antiscientific”), “imperialist,” “re- 
actionary,” “capitalist,” and “fascist.” There is a growing insistence 
on the existence of a “Soviet” science as opposed to “bourgeois” 
science, just as there was for the Nazis an “Aryan” as opposed to 
“non-Aryan” science. For example. Professor A. Zhebrak, the 
geneticist who incurred the displeasure of Pravda for his scientific 
views, is denounced in the following terms: 

Zhebrak, as a Soviet scientist, ought to have unmasked the class mean- 
ing of the struggle taking place in connection with the problem of 
genetics. But, blinded by bourgeois prejudice, by a contemptible sub- 
servience to bourgeois science, he adopted the views of the enemy 
camp. . . . For A. Zhebrak there exists such a thing as “pure science.” 
(Quoted by Joseph P. Lash in New Republic , January 3, 1949.) 

In an address in September 1946 on “The Responsibility of the 
Soviet Writer,” A. Zhdanov said that art can have no aims of its 
own apart from the glorification of the Soviet way of life and the 
merciless and unrelenting exposure of the evils of bourgeois culture. 
Writer^, painters, and musicians whose works were not immedi- 
ately comprehensible to the masses were denounced for “formal- 
ism.” A “formalist” artist is one who is more concerned with achiev- 
ing artistic excellence than with putting across a social message. 
“Formalism,” then, is a bourgeois error, and, by the whoever-is-not- 
for-us-is-against-us principle, the formalist artist was declared to be 
‘against us” — a “traitor” to the “true spirit” of Soviet art. Quite a 
shake-up in the arts followed Zhdanov’s pronouncement: 



230 THE TWO-VALUED ORIENTATION 

Painters were warned against following such “formalists” as Picasso, 
Matisse and the Cubists, and the excellent collection of French Impres- 
sionists in Moscow was closed to the public and stored away in the 
cellar. 

A decree of the Central Committee denounced formalism in music 
and ordered the reconstruction of all work in music to make it com- 
prehensible to the Soviet people. . . . Such world-famous composers as 
Shostakovich, Prokofiev and Khatchaturian were condemned for music 
which was “antidemocratic,” “alien to the Soviet people and its artistic 
taste” and reeking “strongly of the spirit of the contemporary modernist 
bourgeois music of Europe and America which reflects the marasmus 
of bourgeois culture.” The director of the Moscow Conservatory of 
Music, was ousted and Khatchaturian was replaced as chairman of the 
Union of Soviet Composers. . . . 

The Soviet literary critic, M. Egolin, explaining to Moscow writers 
the significance of Zhdanov’s address, made patriotism the keynote. . . . 
It is their [the Soviet writers’] duty to show “the way in which will 
power and strength of character are developed, in which average peo- 
ple, overcoming the hardships and burdens of war, perform great deeds, 
become heroes.” , . . Poetry, it is decreed, must be permeated with 
Soviet optimism and noble striving. Moods of sorrow and discourage- 
ment, an individualistic preoccupation with love and personal destiny 
are considered alien to the Soviet outlook. (Joseph P. Lash, in New 
Republic , January 10, 1949.) 

Because of the artificially imposed barriers to communication be- 
tween the Soviet Union and the outside world, it is difficult to know 
how far this two-valuedness is being carried into Russian life. Per- 
haps clues are offered by such stories as the following: 

Moscow (AP) — The time has come, Soviet stylists were told today, to 
create clothing fashions “not reckoned on the corrupted boulevard tastes 
of the capitalist West.” Society writer A. Donskikh, in “The Moscow 
Bolshevik,” called on stylists to “begin working creatively on styles of 
clothing, simple and at the same time pretty, and corresponding to the 
increased cultural needs of the Soviet people.” (New York Herald 
Tribune , December 29, 1948.) 

Soviet Art, official organ of the Soviet Arts Committee, last week 
published an expose of conditions under the big top. “Only by fully 
unmasking ... in the arenas of Soviet circuses alien bourgeois tend- 



THE SOVIET ONE-PARTY SYSTEM 23I 

cncies can Soviet circus art achieve a new renaissance and become a 
genuine expression of the strength of our great fatherland,” the article 
said. Circus managers were attacked for “trying to replace the healthy 
Soviet circus, with its ideology, optimism and purposefulness, with 
empty, formalistic imitations.” 

The worst offenders were the Western clowns. The article specifically 
attacked the famed Fratellinis, “reactionary and bourgeois (clowns) and 
classical exponents of buffoon games.” A Russian critic who recently 
praised them was severely taken to task for “not revealing the ideological 
character of Western clownism ” (Time, March 14, 1949.) 


Defeating One’s Own Ends 

Convictions of a two-valued kind are far from being unknown 
in our own country. The resulting behavior, when carried out to its 
logical conclusion, is certainly horrible from any humanitarian point 
of view. But there is an even graver objection from what might be 
called a technological point of view, namely, that action resulting 
from two-valued orientations notoriously fails to achieve its objec- 
tives. The mobs, during World War I, that descended upon dissent- 
ing pacifist or religious groups in order to compel them by force 
to kiss the flag did not advance the cause of national defense, but 
weakened it by creating burning resentments among those minori- 
ties. Southern lynch mobs do not solve the Negro problem; they 
simply make matters worse. What hardens “hardened criminals” is 
usually the way they are treated by a two-valued society and two- 
valued policemen. In short, the two-valued orientation produces the 
combative spirit, and nothing else . When guided by it for any pur- 
pose other than fighting, we practically always achieve results op- 
posite from those intended. 

Nevertheless, some orators and editorial writers employ the crude, 
unqualified two-valued orientation with extraordinary frequency, 
although in the alleged interests of peace, prosperity, good govern- 
ment, and other laudable aims. Do such writers and speakers do this 
because they know no better ? Or are they so contemptuous of their 
audiences that they feel that “it don’t pay to be subtle”? Another 
possibility is that they are sincere; like some physicians at the men- 



232 THE TWO-VALUED ORIENTATION 

tion of “socialized medicine,” they cannot help having two-valued 
reactions when certain hated subjects come into their minds. An- 
other explanation, less pleasant to think about but in many instances 
highly probable, is that all the two-valued furore and spread-eagle 
oratory are a means of diverting public attention from more imme- 
diate issues. One can, by making an uproar about “atheism in the 
state university,” “communists on the government pay roll,” “theft 
of atomic information,” or “who was to blame for Pearl Harbor,” 
keep people from noticing what is going on wnh respect to such 
immediate problems as housing legislation, misuse of highway 
funds, forest and soil conservation, and the appointment of stooges 
for public utility companies to public utility regulating commissions. 


The Multi-Valued Orientation 

Except in quarrels and violent controversies, the language of 
everyday life shows what may be termed a multi-valued orientation. 
We have scales of judgment. Instead of “good” and “bad,” we have 
“very bad,” “bad,” “not bad,” “fair,” “good,” “very good”; instead 
of “sane” and “insane,” we have “quite sane,” “sane enough,” 
“mildly neurotic,” “neurotic,” “almost psychotic,” “psychotic.” If 
we have only two values, for example, “law-abiding” and “law- 
breaking,” we have only two ways of acting toward a given legal 
situation; the former are freed, and the latter are, let us say, executed. 
The man who rushes a traffic light is, of course, under such a dis- 
pensation, “just as much a law-breaker as a murderer” and will 
therefore have to get the same punishment. If this seems absurd, 
one has only to recall the medieval heresy trials in which the “ortho- 
dox” were freed and the “heretics” put to death — with the result 
that pious men who made slight theological errors through excess 
of Christian zeal were burned to as black a crisp as infidels or 
desecrators of the church. As soon as additional distinctions between 
degrees of offense are established, additional possibilities are thrown 
open, so that a minor traffic offense may mean a one-dollar fine; 
vagrancy, ten days; smuggling, two to five years in prison; grand 



THE MULTI-VALUED ORIENTATION 233 

larceny, five to fifteen years — that is, as many degrees of punishment 
as there are degrees of guilt recognized. 

The greater the number of distinctions, the greater becomes the 
number of courses of action suggested to us. This means that we be- 
come increasingly capable of reacting appropriately to the many 
complex situations life presents. The physician does not lump all 
people together into the two classes of the “healthy” and the “ill.” 
He distinguishes an indefinite number of conditions that may be 
described as “illness” and has an indefinite number of treatments 
or combinations of treatments. But the witch-doctor did . one song 
and dance for all illnesses. 

The two-valued orientation is an orientation based ultimately, as 
we have seen, on a single interest. But human beings have many 
interests: they want to eat, to sleep, to have friends, to publish 
books, to sell real estate, to build bridges, to listen to music, to 
maintain peace, to conquer disease. Some of these desires are stronger 
than others, and life presents a perpetual problem of weighing one 
set of desires against others and making choices: “I like having the 
money, but I think I would like having that car even better.” “I’d 
like to fire the strikers, but I think it's more important to obey 
the labor board.” “I’d like to obey the labor board, but I think it’s 
more important that those strikers be taught a lesson.” “I don’t like 
standing in line for tickets, but I do want to see that show.” For 
weighing the various and complicated desires that civilization gives 
rise to, an increasingly finely graduated scale of values is necessary, 
as well as foresight, lest in satisfying one desire we frustrate even 
more important ones. The ability to see things in terms of more 
than two values may be referred to as a multi-valued orientation. 


The Multi-Valued Orientation and Democracy 

The multi-valued orientation shows itself, of course, in almost 
all intelligent or even moderately intelligent public discussion. The 
editors of responsible papers, such as the New York Times , New 
York Herald-Tribune, Chicago Sun-Times, Milwaukee Journal , 
St. Louis Post-Dispatch , San. Francisco Chronicle, Louisville Courier - 



234 THE TWO-VALUED orientation 

Journal — to name only a few — and the writers for reputable maga- 
zines, such as Fortune , New Republic, Harper's, Atlantic Monthly, 
Commonweal, or The Nation, almost invariably avoid the unquali- 
fied two-valued orientation. They may condemn communism, but 
they try to see what makes communists act as they do. They may 
denounce the actions of a foreign power, but they do not forget 
the extent to which American actions may have provoked the 
foreign power into behaving as it did. They may attack a political 
administration, but they do not forget its positive achievements. 
It does not matter whether it is from fair-mindedness or timidity 
that some writers avoid speaking in terms of angels and devils, 
pure “good” and pure “evil.” The important thing is that they do, 
and by so doing they keep open the possibility of adjusting differ- 
ences, reconciling conflicting interests, and arriving at just estimates. 
There are people who object to this “shilly-shallying” and insist 
upon an “outright yes or no.” They are the Gordian knot cutters; 
they may undo the knot, but they ruin the rope. 

Indeed, many features of the democratic process presuppose the 
multi-valued orientation. Even that most ancient of judicial pro- 
cedures, the trial by jury, restricted to the conclusions “guilty” and 
“not guilty,” is not as two-valued as it looks, since in the very selec- 
tion of the charge to be brought against the defendant a choice is 
made among many possibilities, and also, in the jurys verdict as 
well as in the judge s sentence, guilt is often modified by recognition 
of “extenuating circumstances.” Modern administrative tribunals 
and boards of mediation, not tied down by the necessity of arriving 
at clear verdicts of “guilty” and “not guilty” and empowered to 
issue “consent decrees” and to close agreements between litigants, 
are even more multi-valued than the trial by* jury and therefore, 
for some purposes, considerably more efficient. 

To take another example, very few bills ever pass a democratic 
parliamentary body in exactly the form in which they were pro- 
posed. Opposing parties argue back and forth, make bargains and 
compromises with each other, and by such a process tend to arrive 
at decisions that are more nearly adjusted to the needs of everyone 
in the community than the original proposals. The more fully 
developed a democracy, the more flexible become its orientations, 



THE MULTI-VALUED ORIENTATION 235 

and the more fully does it reconcile the conflicting desires of the 
people. 

Even more multi-valued is the language of science. Instead of 
saying “hot” and “cold,” we give the temperature in degrees on a 
fixed and agreed-upon scale: —2c 0 F., 37 0 C., and so on. Instead of 
saying “strong” and “weak,” we give strength in horsepower or 
voltage; instead of “fast” and “slow,” we give speed in miles per 
hour or feet per second. Instead of being limited to two answers or 
even to several, we have an infinite number when we use these 
numerical methods. The language of science, therefore, can be said 
to offer an infinite-valued orientation. Having at its command the 
means to adjust one’s action in an infinite number of ways according 
to the exact situation at hand, science travels rapidly and gets things 
done. 


Two- Valued Orientation and Rhetoric 

In spite of all that has been said to recommend multi- and infinite- 
valued orientation, it must not be overlooked that in the expression 
of feelings, the two-valued orientation is almost unavoidable. There 
is a profound “emotional” truth in the two-valued orientation that 
accounts for its adoption in strong expressions of feeling, especially 
those that call for sympathy, pity, or help in a struggle. “Fight 
polio!” “Down with slums and up with better housing!” “Throw 
out the crooks! Vote the Reform ticket!” The more spirited the 
expression, the more sharply will things be dichotomized into the 
“good” and the “bad.” 

As an expression pf feeling and therefore as an affective element 
in speaking and writing, the two-valued orientation almost always 
appears. It is hardly possible to express strong feelings or to arouse 
the interest of an apathetic listener without conveying to some ex- 
tent this sense of conflict. Everyone who is trying to promote a 
t'ause, therefore, shows the two-valued orientation somewhere in 
the course of his writing. It will be found, however, that the two- 
valued orientation is qualified in all conscientious attempts at pre- 
senting what is believed to be truth — qualified sometimes, in the 



236 THE TWO-VALUED ORIENTATION 

ways explained above, by pointing out what can be said against 
the “good” and what can be said for the “bad” — qualified at other 
times by the introduction, elsewhere in the text, of a multi-valued 
approach to the problems. 

The two-valued orientation, in short, can be compared to a paddle, 
which performs the functions, in primitive methods of navigation, 
both of starter and steering apparatus. In civilized life the two- 
valued orientation may be the starter, since it arouses interest with 
its affective power, but the multi-valued or infinite-valued orienta- 
tion is our steering apparatus that directs us to our destination. 


The Pitfalls of Debate 

One of the principal points at which the two-valued orientation 
can seriously upset our thinking is in controversy. If one of the 
debaters has a two-valued orientation which leads him to feel that 
the Democrats, for example, are “entirely good” and the Republicans 
“entirely bad,” he unconsciously forces his opponent into the posi- 
tion of maintaining that the Democrats are “entirely bad” and the 
Republicans “entirely good.” If we argue with such a person at all, 
there is hardly any way to escape being put into a position as 
extreme on one side as his is on the other. This fact was well stated 
by Oliver Wendell Holmes in his Autocrat of the Breahjast-Table, 
where he speaks of the ^hydrostatic paradox of controversy”: 

Don’t you know what that means? — Well, I will tell you. You know 
that, if you had a bent tube, one arm of which was of the size of a pipe- 
stem, and the other big enough to hold the ocean, water would stand 
at the same height in one as in the other. Controversy equalizes fools 
and wise men in the same way — and the fools \now it. 

Disputes in which this “equalization” is likely to occur are, of 
course, a waste of time. The reductio ad absurdum of this kind of 
discussion is often to be found in the high school and college debate, 
as still practiced in many localities. Since both the “affirmative” and 
“negative” can do little other than exaggerate their own claims and 
belittle the claims of the opposition, the net intellectual result of such 



THE PITFALLS OF DEBATE 237 

encounters is usually negligible, and decisions as to who “won” 
the debate must be made on such irrelevant points as skill of presen- 
tation and the pleasing personalities of the contestants. Parliaments 
and congresses, it will be observed, do not try to conduct much of 
their serious discussion on the floor. Speeches are made principally 
for the constituents back homeland not for the other legislators. 
The main work of government is done in the committee room, 
where the traditional atmosphere of debate is absent. Freed from 
the necessity of standing resolutely on “affirmative” and “negative” 
positions, legislators in committee are able to thresh out problems, 
investigate facts, and arrive at workable conclusions that represent 
positions in between the possible extremes. It would seem that, in 
training students to become citizens in a democracy, practice in 
sitting on and testifying before committees of inquiry would be 
more suitable than debating, after the fashion of medieval school- 
men, for “victory.” 

In the course of everyday conversation, most of us need to watch 
for the two-valued orientation in ourselves. In a competitive society, 
conversation is often a battleground in disguise on which we are 
constantly (and unconsciously) trying to win victories — showing up 
the other fellow’s errors, exposing his lack of information, con- 
fronting him (and all others present) with the superiority of our 
own erudition and logic. This habit of jousting for status is so 
deeply ingrained in most of us (especially in university and profes- 
sional circles) that every literary cocktail party and every meeting 
of intellectuals is likely to include, as part of the entertainment, 
some sort of verbal dogfight among those present. Most people in 
such circles are so accustomed to this jousting that they rarely take 
offence at the remarks of their opponents. Nevertheless, they waste 
in argument a good deal of time that might more profitably be 
spent exchanging information and views . 3 An unconscious assump- 
tion, convenient for the purposes of those who are looking for occa- 

3 It is in such conversations that we all pretend to have read books that we know 
only by title, and to know about matters that we have never heard of before. People 
who don’t know the rules and naively admit their ignorance are trampled upon or 
ignored; in either case they are left at the end of an evening with a crushing sense 
of inferiority. This, of course, is part of the purpose. 



238 THE TWO-VALUED ORIENTATION 

sions for argument and therefore underlying most of this kind of 
conversation, is that statements are either “true” or “false.” 

An important way to get the most out of conversation (and out of 
other forms of communication) is the following systematic applica- 
tion of the multi-valued orientation. Instead of assuming a state- 
ment to be “true” or “false,” one should assume that it has a truth- 
value of somewhere between o and 100 per cent. For example, let 
us say that we are sympathetic to organized labor, and someone 
says to us, “Labor unions are rackets.” Our immediate temptation is 
to say, “They are not” — and the battle would be on. But what is the 
truth-value of the man’s statement? It is clearly neither 0 per cent 
(“No unions are rackets”) nor 100 per cent (“All unions are 
rackets”). Let us then silently grant a tentative truth-value of 1 
per cent (“One union out of 100 is a racket”) and say to him, 
“Tell me more.” If he has no more basis for his remark than the 
vague memory of something somebody once wrote in a newspaper 
column, he will fizzle out shortly, sc that we need not be bothered 
with him any more. But if he does have experience with even one 
instance of union racketeering, he is talking about something quite 
real to him, although he may be vastly overgeneralizing his ex- 
perience. If we listen sympathetically to his experience, the following 
are some of the things that may happen: 

1. We may learn something we never knew before. We may, 
without giving up our pro-union sympathies, at least modify them 
so that they rest upon a clearer recognition of the shortcomings of 
unions as well as their advantages. 

2. He may moderate his statement with such an admission as, 
“Of course, I haven’t had experience with many unions.” Again, 
if he tries to describe as extensionally as possibly his experience with 
a labor union, he may find that some term other than “racketeering” 
more accurately fits the facts. In these and other ways he may make 
his remarks increasingly acceptable as he proceeds. 

3. By inviting him to communicate to us, we establish lines of 
communication with him. This enables us later to say things to 
him which he may then be disposed to listen to. 

4. Both may profit from the conversation. 

To attempt to converse in this way is to make all our social con- 



THE PITFALLS OF DEBATE 


239 

tacts occasions for what we have earlier called the “pooling of 
knowledge.” According to the “logic of probability” (one of the 
important instruments of scientific thought), even such a statement 
as “The sun will not rise tomorrow” has truth-value of an in- 
finitestimal fraction of 1 per cent. The statements made in everyday 
life, even if based on slipshod inferences and hasty overgeneraliza- 
tions, can usually be found to have some modest degree of truth- 
value. To find the needle of meaning in the haystacks of nonsense 
that the other fellow is talking is to learn something, even from 
the apparently prejudiced and uninformed. And if the other fellow 
is equally patient about looking for the needle of meaning in our 
haystacks of nonsense, he may learn something from us. Ultimately, 
all civilized life depends upon the willingness on the part of all of 
us to learn as well as to teach. To delay one’s reactions and to be 
able to say “Tell- me more,” and then to listen before reacting — 
these are practical applications of some of the theoretical principles 
with which this book has been concerned: no statements, not even 
our own, say all about anything; inferences, such as one to the effect 
that the man who made the nasty remarks about unions is a “labor- 
hating reactionary,” need to be checked before we react to them; a 
multi-valued orientation is necessary to democratic discussion and 
to human co-operation. 


Orientations and Logic 

The foregoing remarks about the two-valued orientation are not 
to be construed as being intended to apply to two-valued logic . 
Ordin^ty logic, such* as we use in arithmetic, is strictly two-valued. 
Within the framework of ordinary arithmetic, two plus two are 
four. This is the “right” answer, and all other answers are “wrong.” 
Many demonstrations in geometry are based on what is called “in- 
direct proof”: in order to prove a statement, you take its opposite 
and assume it to be “true” until you find in the course of further 
calculation that it leads to a flat contradiction; such a contradiction 
proves it to be “false,” whereupon the original statement is regarded 



24O THE TWO- VALUED ORIENTATION 

as “true.” This too is an application of two-valued logic. The writer 
has no quarrel with arithmetic or geometry. 

Logic is a set of rules governing consistency in the use of language . 
When we are being “logical,” our statements are consistent with 
each other; they may be accurate “maps” of real “territories” or they 
may not , but the question whether they are or not is outside the 
province of logic. Logic is language about language, not language 
about things or events. The fact that two quarts of marbles plus 
two quarts of milk do not add up to four quarts of the mixture 
does not affect the “truth” of the statement, “Two plus two are 
four,” because all that this statement says is that “four” is the name 
of “the sum of two and tw r o.” Of such a statement as “Two plus 
two are four,” a two-valued question may be asked: “Is it true or 
false?” — meaning, “Is it or is it not consistent with the rest of our 
system ? If we accept it, shall we be able to talk consistently without 
eventually contradicting ourselves?” As a set of rules for establish- 
ing discourse, a two-valued logic is one of the possible instruments 
for creating order out of linguistic chaos. It is indispensable, of 
course, to most of mathematics. 

In some areas pf discourse and within some special groups of 
people, it is possible, so to speak, to “police” the language so that 
it comes to have some of the clarity and freedom from ambiguity 
enjoyed by mathematics. In such cases, people may agree to call 
certain animals “cats,” certain forms of government “democracy,” 
and a certain gas “helium.” They would also have clear agreements 
what not to call “cats,” “democracy,” or “helium.” The two-valued 
rule of traditional (Aristotelian) logic, “A thing is either a cat or 
not a cat,” and the Aristotelian “law of identity,” “A cat is a cat,” 
make a great deal of sense when we understand! them as devices for 
creating and maintaining order in one 's vocabulary . They may be 
translated, “We must, in order to understand one another, make 
up our minds whether we are going to call Tabby a ‘cat’ or ‘not 
a cat.’ And once u/e have entered into an agreement as to u/hat to 
call him, let's stic\ to it ” 

Such agreements do not, of course, completely solve the problem 
of what things to call by what names, nor do they guarantee the 
certainty of statements logically deduced. In other words, defini- 



ORIENTATIONS AND LOGIC 24I 

tions, as stated in Chapter 10, say nothing about things, but only 
describe (and often prescribe) people’s linguistic habits. Even with 
the strictest of agreements, therefore, as to what to call “cats” and 
what not to call “cats,” whatever we may logically deduce about 
cats may turn out, on extensional examination of Tabby, Cinders, 
or Fluff, not to be true. 

Cats are creatures that meow. 

Tabby, Cinders, and Fluff are cats. 

Therefore Tabby, Cinders, and Fluff meow. 

But what if Fluff has a sore throat and cannot meow? The inten - 
sional cat (the cat by definition, whatever our definition may be, 
“creatures that meow” or any other ) is not the extensional cat 
(Fluff, April 16, 2 p . m .). Each cat is different from every other 
cat; each cat also, like Bessie the Cow, is a process , undergoing 
constant chartge. Therefore, the only way to guarantee the “truth” 
of logically deduced statements and to arrive at agreements through 
logic alone is not to talk about actual cats at all, and to talk only 
about cats-by-definition. The nice thing about cats-by-definition is 
that, come hell or high water, they always meow (although, to be 
sure, they only meow-by-definition). 

This principle is well understood in mathematics. The mathe- 
matical “point” (which “has position but occupies no space”) and 
the mathematical “circle” (which is a “closed figure in which all 
points are equidistant from the center”) exist only as definitions; 
actual points occupy some space, and actual circles are never exactly 
circular. Hence, as Einstein said, “As far as the laws of mathematics 
refer to reality, they are not certain; and as far as they are certain, 
they do not refer to reality.” Therefore, even in an area such as 
chemistry, in which the vocabulary is quite strictly “policed,” state- 
ments logically deduced still have to be checked against extensional 
observation. This is another reason why the rule for extensional 
orientation — cati is not cat2 — is extremely important. No matter 
how carefully we have defined the word “cat,” and no matter how 
logically we have reasoned, extensional cats still have to be examined. 

The belief that logic will substantially reduce misunderstanding 
is widely and uncritically held, although, as a matter of common 



24 2 THE TWO-VALUED ORIENTATION 

experience, we all know that people who pride themselves on their 
logic are usually, of all the people we know, the hardest to get 
along with. Logic can lead to agreement only when, as in mathe- 
matics or the sciences, there are pre-existing , hard-and-fast agree- 
ments as to what words stand for. But among our friends, business 
associates, and casual acquaintances — some of them Catholic and 
some Protestant, some of them scientists and some mystic senti- 
mentalists, some sports fans and some interested in nothing but 
money — only the vaguest of linguistic agreements exist. In ordinary 
conversation, therefore, we have to learn people’s vocabularies in 
the course of talking with them — which is what all sensible and 
tactful people do, without even being aware of the process. 

On the whole, therefore, except in mathematics and other areas 
where clear-cut linguistic agreements either exist or can be brought 
into existence, the study and practice of traditional, two-valued 
logic is not recommended . 4 The habitual reliance on two-valued logic 
in everyday life quickly leads to a two-valued orientation — and we 
have already seen what that leads to. 


Applications 

L The two-valued orientation appears in each of the following pas- 
sages, in crude form as well as at higher levels of feeling; qualified as 
well as unqualified. Analyze each of them carefully, especially in the 
light of the questions: "How much confidence can I safely repose in 
the judgment of the author of this passage? A great deal? None at all? 
Or is there not enough evidence to be able to say?” Be on guard against 
the assumption that the two-valued orientation is always a bad thing. 

i. “Politics, vacillation, the eternal straining after cleverness, ^ mind, 
as H. G. Wells observed of the President [Franklin Roosevelt], ‘appall- 
ingly open/ open indeed at both ends, through which all sorts of half- 
baked ideas flow, love of the spectacular, preoccupation with war prob- 

4 It is interesting to note that even in mathematics, stress is laid today on the 
fact that two-valued logic is only one of many possible systems of logic. The logic 
of probability, on the basis of which insurance companies quote premiums, book- 
makers quote odds, and physicists predict the behavior of neutrons, may be re- 
garded as an infinite-valued logic. 



APPLICATIONS 


243 

lems and the affairs of Europe, and only a dim perception of the pro- 
found problems of economics and finance that dominate our scene, good 
intentions mixed with confused ethical concepts — these have brought 
the President to the tragic point where the only thing that can save his 
regime is to take the country off into a war hysteria. 

“Seven years after he took office there are eleven million unemployed, 
private investment is dead, the farm problem is precisely where he 
found it. Fie put through some social reforms that the country was 
yelling for. But these social reforms have to be almost completely over- 
hauled. As for recovery — the President has not one plan. The cost of 
all this has been twenty-two billion dollars, all yet to be paid. 

“If it has all happened that way , it is because Franklin D. Roosevelt 
is that way!’ — John t. flyn\ t , Country Squire in the White House 

2. Preface to Milton 

And did those feet in ancient time 
Walk upon England’s mountains green? 

And was the holy Lamb of God 
On England’s pleasant pastures seen? 

And did the countenance divine 
Shine forth upon our clouded hills? 

And was Jerusalem builded here 
Among these dark Satanic mills? 

Bring me my bow of burning gold: 

Bring me my arrows of desire: 

Bring me my spear: O clouds, unfold! 

Bring me my chariot of fire. 

I will not cease from mental fight, 

Nor shall my sword sleep in my hand, 

Till w^have built Jerusalem 
In England’s green and pleasant land. 

— WILLIAM BLAKE 

3 * 

WE ARE FOR THE STRIKING RAILROAD MEN IOO PER CENT — WE ARE 
FOR A LIVING WAGE AND FAIR WORKING CONDITIONS. 

These words on a card in a number of Emporia show windows 
express a mild opinion of friendly sympathy with the strikers. 



THE TWO-VALUED ORIENTATION 


?.a a 

The cards have been ordered out by the Kansas Industrial Court. 
The order is an infamous infraction of the right of free press and 
free speech. Certainly it has not come to such a pass in this country 
that a man may not say what he thinks about an industrial con- 
troversy without disobeying the law. 

One of these cards went up in the gazette window today. In- 
stead of ioo per cent, we have started it at 49 per cent. If the strike 
lasts until tomorrow we shall change the per cent to fifty, and 
move it up a little every day. As a matter of fact, the gazette does 
not believe that anyone — not even the gazette — is 100 per cent 
right. But somewhere between forty -nine and 100 per cent the 
men are right. And if the Industrial Court desires to make a test 
case, here it is. This is not a question of whether the men are right 
or wrong, but a question of the right of an American citizen to 
say what he pleases about this strike. And if forty-nine per cent 
sympathy is permissible, in the next fifty days we shall all see 
where violation of the law begins. The Industrial Court which we 
have upheld from its conception, and still uphold, will have the 
nicest little chance to see just where it is lawful for a man to ex- 
press sympathy with his friends and neighbors, even if in his heart 
he believes that they have made a mistake in the time of their strike. 

Either we have free speech and a free press in this country, or 
we have not. Now is the time to find out. 

— william allen white, Editorial for 
the Emporia Gazette, July 19, 1922 * 

4. “I repeat, the conflicts about capitalism (and, really, about every- 
thing else as well) come from the two opposite views of the nature of 
man. The basic question is: Are all men endowed by the Creator with 
inalienable liberty? Or are all persons controlled, as wind and water 
are, by forces outside themselves? 

“If everyone answered that question definitely and positively, for 
himself, and did all his thinking logically and soundly on the basis of 
his answer to that question, at least there would be no confusion in 
human affairs. The lines would be clearly drawn; the enemies would 
face each other in solid ranks; and the issue could be decided once for 
all 

•From Forty Years on Main Street . Copyright, 1937, by William Allen White. 
Reprinted by permission of Rinehart & Company, Inc., publishers. 



APPLICATIONS 


245 

“Now, from the pagan belief that human beings are not free indi- 
viduals, straight thinking leads directly to some kind of slavery. For if 
individuals do not control themselves, something else must control them; 
and in human society this Controller must have some kind of human 
form — a Living God, such as the Mikado; an autocrat, such as an Em- 
peror, a King, a Leader, a Dictator; or a group of persons, such as a 
Ruling Class, a Party, a Parliament, or a Majority. . # . 

“Whatever may be the political form that is established by the pagan 
view of man, the economy must always be a controlled economy. Of 
course, if individuals do not control their own actions, their actions are 
controlled by forces outside themselves; and since our first necessities 
are food, clothing and shelter, the major part of human activities will 
be farming, manufacturing, trading. Controlling anyone means con- 
trolling all their economic activities; that is, it means a controlled econ- 
omy, now called a ‘planned’ economy. In other words, a controlled 
economy is a tyranny; a tyranny is a controlled economy. 

“The tyrant may be a Mikado, an Emperor, a King, a Leader, a mili- 
tary dictator, a Ruling Class, a Party, or a Parliament (or Congress). 
The tyrant may control the economy in a number of ways: feudalism, 
communism, fascism, syndicalism, international or national socialism. 
The constant fact is that any controlled economy is some form of tyranny, 
and in it all men are slaves.” 

— rose wilder lane, Pittsburgh Courier, May 13, 1944 

5. “One can imagine a semanticist in Poland, France, Norway, Greece, 
or any other country occupied by the Nazis. . . . Here, where revolu- 
tionary resistance to alien oppression was the only constructive therapy, 
the treacherous effects of the cult [of semantics] would have been clear. 
Nazii was not the same as Nazi 2 or Nazis, to be sure, but more im- 
portant for the victims was the functioning of all Nazis in a single 
pattern of destructive, anti-human behavior. In the coming period, with 
its sharpened imperialist rivalries so dreadfully jeopardizing our efforts 
toward world peace, there will no doubt be further destructive group 
actions which must be countered by positive and heroic struggles to- 
ward constructive ends. The alternatives are critical as never before in 
human history. In these times, harkening to the semantic cult is . . . 
rendering ourselves completely defenseless while we indulge in private 
games. For this reason I believe the vogue must not be dismissed as 
another curious but unimportant preoccupation of quasi-intellectuals. 



246 THE TWO-VALUED ORIENTATION 

It must be clearly revealed as a menace to the constructive social action 
so sorely needed today, and vigorously opposed. 

— Margaret schlauch, “The Cult of the Proper Word,” 

New Masses , April 15, 1947 

II. Consider the relative advantages and disadvantages of two-valued 
and multi-valued orientations in such situations as: 

1. Trying to get parental consent to your marriage to someone out- 
side your religious or racial group. 

2. Deciding with the other members of the family where the family 
will spend the summer vacation. 

3. Writing a script to be broadcast to the citizens of an enemy nation 
in time of war. 

4. Leading an infantry combat unit into battle. 

5. Getting elected mayor of your town or city. 

6. Dealing, as mayor of your town or city, with the problem of traffic 
congestion on Main Street. 

7. Increasing the efficiency and morale of the department, office, store, 
or factory unit in which you work. 

8. Giving a speech urging support of the United Nations. 

9. Trying to get your children to eat what you believe to be proper 
foods in what you believe to be the proper way. 

HI. One of the most effective ways of understanding and applying 
some of the key ideas in this chapter is to experiment, along with other 
people who have read it, in seeing how these ideas work. 

For example, in a group of people who are familiar with the distinc- 
tions made here, choose some controversial subject of genuine interest 
to the group, such as the censorship of movies or of television, the aboli- 
tion of college fraternities and sororities, world government, national 
health insurance by the federal government, pacificism, or the closed 
shop. Ask two members of the group to present a discussion of the 
chosen subject with one person persistently maintaining a two- valued 
orientation on the subject (“All censorship is bad,” “The closed shop is 
undemocratic”) and with the other person taking an opposing two- 
valued orientation. 

Then ask two other members of the group to discuss the same sub- 
ject, again with one of them maintaining a two-valued orientation but 
this time with the second person using the approach suggested in this 
chapter (“Tell me more,” “Let’s see”). 



APPLICATIONS 


247 

The role-playing suggested here need not be lengthy — a three to five 
minute demonstration will usually suffice. A discussion of the demonstra- 
tion, followed perhaps by another demonstration, will help to get the 
“feel” of “verbal jousting” as compared with the “systematic applica- 
tion of multi-valued orientation.” In general discussion following such 
a demonstration, let the role-taker who has been most “on the spot” 
have the first chance to criticize what has been done, then his collab- 
orator, and then those who were present as spectators. 



15. The Great Snafu 1 


( Said Josie, the chimpanzee:) “No matter what names you 
humans give to things, we chimpanzees go right on enjoying 
life. It isn't so with humans . . . . The names you uncaged 
primates give things affect your attitude toward them forever 
after. You lose your insight because you are always holding up 
a screen of language between you and the real world.” 

RUTH HERSCHBERGER 


In every cry of every man, 

In every infant's cry of fear, 

In every voice, in every ban, 

The mind-forg d manacles 1 hear. 

WILLIAM BLAKE 


Freedom of Communication 

We in the United States, who enjoy about as much freedom of 
press and freedom of speech as can be found anywhere in the 
world, frequently forget that information in the form of books, 
news, and education was long considered too valuable a commodity 
to be distributed freely among the common people. This is still the 
case, of course, in many countries. All tyrannies, ancient and modern, 
go on the assumption on the part of the rul^s that they know best 
what is good for the people, who should only have what informa- 
tion the rulers think advisable. Until comparatively recent times, 
education was withheld from all but the privileged classes. In some 
states of the union, for example, it used to be a criminal offense to 
teach Negroes to read and write. The idea of universal education 

1 See Chapter 4: “The writer of a dictionary is a historian, not a lawgiver/’ 
The historians have caught up with this GI term. See The American College Die - 
tlonary, p. 1142. 



FREEDOM OF COMMUNICATION 


249 

was formerly regarded with as much horror by the “best people” 
as communism is today. Newspapers, during the early days of 
journalism, had to be bootlegged, because governments were un- 
willing to permit them to exist. Books formerly could be published 
only after official permission had been obtained. It is no accident 
that freedom of speech and freedom of press go hand in hand with 
democracy and that censorship and suppression always accompany 
tyranny and dictatorship. 

The general suppression of information has rarely been com* 
pletely successful over long periods of time in any nation. Human 
beings, for the purposes of their own well-being and survival, insist 
upon getting knowledge from as many people as possible, and also 
insist upon disseminating as widely as possible whatever knowl- 
edge they themselves may have found valuable. Even in the strictest 
of tyrannies, some form of “grapevine” communication continues 
to exist. Authority and aristocratic privilege gain temporary vic- 
tories, but for the past three or four hundred years at least, uni- 
versal access to information appears to have been, despite periodic 
censorship for military or political reasons, steadily increasing. In 
such a nation as the United States, the principles of universal educa- 
tion and freedom of the press are rarely openly questioned. We can 
deliver speeches without showing our manuscripts in advance to 
the chief of police. Except where considerations of “military secu- 
rity” stand in the way, we can print news stories and scientific papers 
without prior clearance with a governmental agency . 2 Power presses, 
cheaper methods of printing, public circulating libraries, elaborate 
systems of indexing and reference which make possible the quick 
finding of practically any information people might want — these 
and many other devices are now in operation in order that we need 
not depend solely on our own experience, but may utilize the ex- 
perience of the rest of humanity. 

It must not be forgotten, however, that technological advances 
in the communications industry, depending on what kind of eco- 
nomic or political control is exercised over them, may work either 

2 The exception is an extremely serious one. Overenergetic and overanxious meas- 
ures in the interests of “security" can gravely impair the democracy that “security 
measures" are intended to protect 



250 THE GREAT SNAFU 

for or against freedom of communication. There is little doubt that 
the invention of printing helped vastly the liberation of European 
people from the Renaissance onward. Pamphleteers disseminating 
new ideas have been important in every political movement. The 
freedom of the press traditional in democratic countries was estab- 
lished as a governing principle during a time when pamphleteers 
were still common and “the press” meant a large number of small 
newspapers produced in small print shops. It is often argued today 
that the enormous sums required to start a metropolitan daily news- 
paper effectively restrict freedom of the press to all but the very 
wealthy . 3 As an example of economic dangers to the freedom of 
the press, there is the fact that in the period immediately following 
the close of World War II, after the cessation of the wartime prac- 
tice of governmental allocation of newsprint, thousands of small 
weeklies and special-interest papers were threatened with extinction 
as a result of the shortage of paper, the bulk of which went to the 
great newspapers. Again, radio is an amazingly efficient means of 
communication, but because the number of frequency channels is 
limited, and because stations can be linked up into vast nation-wide 
networks, it is (as totalitarian governments discovered) perhaps the 
easiest of all communication media to control centrally in the in- 
terests of one party or one powerful group of special interests. Every 
communication medium — press, radio, television, radio-transmitted 
facsimile newspaper — provides its own special problems as to how 
it is to be kept equally open to all important segments of public 

3 “I think almost everybody will grant that if candidates for the United States 
Senate were required to possess ten million dollars, and for the House one million, 
the year-in-year-out level of conservatism of those two bodies might be expected 
to rise sharply. We could still be said to have a freely elected Congress: anybody 
with ten million dollars (or one, if he tailored his ambifton to fit his means) would 
be free to try to get himself nominated, and the rest of us would be free to vote 
for our favorite millionaires or even to abstain from voting. . . . 

“In the same sense, we have a free press today. (I am thinking of big-city and 
middling-city publishers as members of an upper and louver house of American 
opinion.) Anybody in the ten-million-dollar category is free to try to buy or found 
a paper in a great city like New York or Chicago, and anybody with around a 
million (plus a lot of sporting blood) is free to try it in a place of mediocre size like 
Worcester, Mass. As to us, we are free to buy a paper or not, as we wish.” A. J. 
Liebling, The Wayward Pressman , p. 265 . 



FREEDOM OF COMMUNICATION 251 

opinion. Unless these problems are thought about concretely, in terms 
of the technical peculiarities of each medium rather than in terms 
of abstract principles, important bodies of opinion can be kept 
from reaching the public at all. 

Universal freedom of communication and the widest possible 
pooling of knowledge, even within the confines of the United 
States, is confronted by other difficulties as well. There are still 
millions of illiterates; good books, magazines, and newspapers are 
not everywhere available; there are many sections in our country 
without adequate schools; some communities have no libraries; 
other communities, having libraries, do not permit Negroes to use 
them. In all too many cities, there is only one newspaper (or two 
newspapers controlled by one firm). If, in such a city, the news- 
papers are partisan in their selection and editing of news and 
opinion, other sides are not heard at all. 


Words as a Barrier 

We are more concerned in this book, however, with the condi- 
tions within ourselves that stand in the way of universal com- 
munication. The idealistic proponents of universal education be- 
lieved that people able to read and write would automatically be 
wiser and more capable of intelligent self-government than illiter- 
ates. But we are beginning to learn that literacy is not enough. 
Every drugstore newsstand in the country displays a collection of 
literature specially written for morons, and in most small towns 
there is no other place to buy reading matter. Furthermore, as the 
result of the necessary abstractness of our vocabulary, general literacy 
has often diad the effect of merely making our folly more compli- 
cated and difficult to deal with than it was under conditions of 
illiteracy. And, as we have also seen, rapidity and ease of com- 
munication often make folly infectious. Universal literacy has 
brought new problems of its own. 

Because words are such a powerful instrument, we have in many 
ways a superstitious awe rather than an understanding of them — 



252 THE GREAT SNAFU 

and even if we have no awe, we tend at least to have an undue 
respect for them. For example, when someone in the audience at a 
meeting asks the speaker a question, and when the speaker makes 
a long and plausible series of noises without answering it, sometimes 
both the questioner and the speaker fail to notice that the question 
has not been answered; they both sit down perfectly satisfied . That 
is to say, the mere fact that an appropriate-sounding set of noises 
has been made satisfies some people that a statement has been made; 
thereupon they accept and sometimes memorize that set of noises, 
serenely confident that it answers a question or solves a problem. 

Many a cynical speaker and practical-minded clergyman has no 
doubt discovered the principle for himself: when someone asks a 
question that you can’t answer, make an appropriate-sounding set 
of noises and all will be well. When Philip F. La Follette, then 
Governor of Wisconsin, forced the resignation of the late Dr. Glenn 
Frank from his post as president of the University of Wisconsin, 
the merits and demerits of Mr. La Follette’s action were matters 
of heated discussion throughout the state. The writer, as an em- 
ployee of the University of Wisconsin at the time, was traveling 
through the state and often encountered casual acquaintances and 
strangers who asked him, “Say, doc, what’s the inside dope on that 
affair at the university? It’s all politics, isn’t it?” The writer never 
found out what anybody meant by “It’s all politics,” but in order to 
save trouble, he usually answered, “Yes, I suppose it is.” Thereupon 
the questioner would look quite pleased with himself and say, 
“Thats what I thought!” In short, the assurance that “politics” was 
the appropriate noise to make satisfied the questioner completely, 
in spite of the fact that the question which led to all the public 
discussion, namely, whether the governor had abused his political 
office or had carried out his political duty, had been left both un- 
asked and unanswered. This undue regard for words maizes us 
tend to permit words to act as barriers between us and reality, in- 
stead of as guides to reality . 



INTENSIONAL ORIENTATION 


253 


Intensional Orientation 

In previous chapters, we have analyzed particular kinds of mis- 
evaluation. All of these can now be summed up under one term: 
intensional orientation — the habit of guiding ourselves by words 
alone, rather than by the facts to which words should guide us. 
We all tend to assume, when professors, writers, politicians, or 
other apparently responsible individuals open their mouths, that 
they are saying something meaningful, simply because words have 
informative and affective connotations that arouse our feelings. 
When we open our own mouths, we are even more likely to make 
that assumption. As Wendell Johnson says, “Every man is his most 
interested and affected listener.” The result of such indiscriminate 
lumping together of sense and nonsense is that “maps” pile up inde- 
pendently of “territory.” And, in the course of a lifetime, we may pile 
up entire systems of meaningless noises, placidly unaware that they 
bear no relationship to reality whatever. 

Intensional orientation may be regarded as a general term (at the 
next higher level of abstraction) covering the multitude of more 
specific errors already pointed out: the unawareness of contexts; the 
tendency toward automatic reactions; the confusion of levels of 
abstraction (of what is inside one’s head with what is outside) ; the 
consciousness of similarities, but not of differences; the habit of 
being content to explain words by means of definitions, that is, 
more words. By intensional orientation, “capitalists,” “Bolsheviks,” 
“farmers,” and “workingmen” “are” what we say they are; America 
“is” a democracy, because everybody says so; “atheists must be im- 
moral” because it “logically follows” that if people do not fear God 
they have “no reason to behave themselves.” 

Oververbalization 

Let us take a term, such as “churchgoer,” which denotes Smithi, 
Smith*, Smiths . . . , who attend divine services with moderate 
regularity. Note that the denotation says nothing about the “church- 



THE GREAT SNAFU 


2 54 

goer’s” character: his kindness to children or lack of it, the happi- 
ness or unhappiness of his married life, the honesty or dishonesty 
of his business practices. The term is applicable to a large number 
of people, some good, some bad, some poor, some rich, and so on. 
The intensional meanings or connotations of the term, however, 
are quite a different matter. “Churchgoer” suggests “good Chris- 
tian”; “good Christian” suggests fidelity to wife and home, kindness 
to children, honesty in business, sobriety of living habits, and a whole 
range of admirable qualities. These suggestions further suggest, by 
two-valued orientation, that non-churchgoers are likely not to have 
these qualities. 

If our intensional orientations are serious, therefore, we can 
manufacture verbally a whole system of values — a whole system for 
the classification of mankind into sheep and goats — out of the con- 
notations, informative and affective, of the term “churchgoer.” That 
is to say, once the term is given, we can, by proceeding from con- 
notation to connotation, keep going indefinitely. A map is inde- 
pendent of territory, so that we can keep on adding mountains and 
rivers after we have drawn in all the mountains and rivers that 
actually exist in the territory. Once we get started, we can spin out 
whole essays, sermons, books, and even philosophical systems on 
the basis of the word “churchgoer” without paying a particle of 
further attention to Smithi, Smith2, Smiths. . . . 

Likewise, give a good Fourth of July orator the word “American- 
ism” to play with, and he can worry it for hours, exalting “Ameri- 
canism,” making dreadful thundering noises at “foreign-isms,” and 
evoking great applause from his hearers. There is no way of stopping 
this process by which free associations, one word “implying” an- 
other, can be made to go on and on. That if why, of course, there 
are so many people in the world whom one calls windbags. That 
is why many orators, newspaper columnists, commencement day 
speakers, politicians, and high school elocutionists can speak at a 
moment’s notice on any subject whatever. Indeed, a great many of 
the “English” and “speech” courses in our schools are merely train- 
ing in this very thing — how to keep on talking importantly even 
when one hasn’t a thing to say. 

This kind of “thinking” which is the product of intensional 



OVERVERBALIZATION 255 

orientation, is called circular, because, since all the possible conclu- 
sions are contained in the connotations of the word to start with, we 
are bound, no matter how hard or how long we “think,” to come 
back to our starting point. Indeed, we can hardly be said ever to 
leave our starting point. Of course, as soon as we are face to face 
with a fact, we are compelled to shut up, or start over again some- 
where else. That is why it is so “rude” in certain kinds of meetings 
and conversations to bring up any facts. They spoil everybody’s 
good time. 4 

Now let us go back to our “churchgoer.” A certain Mr. William 
McDinsmore — the name is fictitious, of course — has had the term 
applied to him because of his habit of going to church. On examina- 
tion, Mr. McDinsmore turns out to be, let us say, indifferent to his 
social obligations, unkind to his children, unfaithful to his wife, 
and dishonest in his trusteeship of other people’s funds. If we have 
been habitually orientated towards Mr. McDinsmore by the inten- 
sional meanings of the word “churchgoer,” this proves to be a 
shocking case. “How can a man be a churchgoer and so dishonest at 
the same time?” The problem is completely incapable of solution 
for some people. Unable to separate the intensional from the exten- 
sional “churchgoer,” they are forced to one of three conclusions, 
all absurd: 

1. “This is an exceptional case” — meaning, “I’m not changing my 
mind about churchgoers, who are always nice people no matter how 
many exceptions you can find 

2. “He isn’t really that bad! He cant be!” — that is, denying the fact 
in order to escape the necessity of accounting for it. 

3. “All my ideals are shattered! A man can’t believe anything any 
more! My belief in hu$nan nature is destroyed!” 5 

4 “When Harold Stasscn in a ‘Forum of the Air* radio debate the other day 
charged that no great advance like penicillin had ever come from a country with a 
medical-insurance plan, Oscar Ewing quietly pointed out that penicillin came from 
England.” New Republic , January 24, 1949. 

6 When Sinclair Lewis’s Elmer Gantry (1927) was published, it created much 
controversy. The disputants divided into two main factions. First, there were those 
who maintained that such a minister as Elmer Gantry — by intensional definition of 
“minister” — “couldn’t possibly have existed,” and that therefore Lewis had libeled 
the profession; secondly, there were the cynics who hailed the book as “an expose 
of religion.” Neither conclusion was, of course, justified by the novel. 



256 THE GREAT SNAFU 

An unfounded complacency, which can so easily be followed by 
“disillusionment, ” is perhaps the most serious consequence of in- 
tensional orientation. And, as we have seen, we all have intensional 
orientation regarding some subjects. In the 1930’$ the federal gov- 
ernment, confronted by mass unemployment, created the Works 
Progress Administration, an agency which hired men and women 
and thought up public projects for them to work on. These WPA 
jobs were described scornfully by opponents of the administration 
as “made work,” as distinguished from “real work” such as private 
industry was at that time failing to provide. It became a matter of 
pious faith on the part of these critics of the administration to be- 
lieve that “WPA workers don’t ever really work.” The capacity for 
verbal autointoxication being as great as it is in some people, many 
of the believers in this faith were able to drive daily past gangs of 
WPA workers sweating over the construction of roads and bridges 
and still to declare cjuite honestly, “I’ve never yet seen a WPA 
worker do any work!” Another instance of this same self-induced 
blindness is to be found in widespread attitudes toward “worsen 
drivers.” Many of us encounter daily hundreds of cars driven by 
women who handle them expertly; yet we declare, again quite 
honestly, “I never saw a woman yet who could really drive a car.” 
By definition , women are “timid,” “nervous,” and “easily fright- 
ened”; therefore, they “can’t drive.” If we know women who have 
driven successfully for years, we maintain that “they’ve just been 
lucky,” or that “they don’t drive like women.” 

The important fact to be noticed about such attitudes towards 
“churchgoers,” “WPA workers,” and “women drivers” is that we 
should never have made such mistakes nor so blinded ourselves if 
we had never heard anything about them beforehand. Such attitudes 
are not the product of ignorance; genuine ignorance doesn’t have 
attitudes. They are the result of false knowledge — false knowledge 
that robs us of whatever good sense we were born with. As we 
have already seen, part of this false knowledge we make up for 
ourselves with our confusions of levels of abstraction and other 
evaluative errors described in earlier chapters. However, a great 



OVERVERBALIZATION 257 

deal o£ it is manufactured simply through our universal habit o£ 
talking too much . 

Many people, indeed, are in a perpetual vicious circle. Because 
o£ intensional orientation, they are oververbalized; by oververbal- 
ization, they strengthen their intensional orientation. Such people 
burst into speech as automatically as juke boxes; a nickel in the 
slot, and they’re off. With habits of this kind, it is possible for us to 
tcd\ ourselves into un-sane attitudes , not only towards “women 
drivers,” “Jews,” “capitalists,” “bankers,” and “labor unions,” but 
also towards our personal problems: “mother,” “relatives,” “money,” 
“popularity,” “success,” “failure” — and, most o£ all, towards “love” 
and “sex.” 


Outside Sources of Intensional Orientation 

In addition to our own habits, there are verbal influences from 
without that tend to increase our intensional orientations. Of these, 
only three will be dealt with here: education, magazine fiction, and 
advertising. 

1. Education. Education really has two tasks. First, it is supposed 
to tell us facts about the world we live in: language is used informer 
tively . Perhaps an even more important task, however, is that o£ 
inculcating ideals and “molding character”; that is, language is 
used directively in order that students should conform to the usages 
and traditions of the society in which they live. In their directive 
function, therefore, schools tell us the “principles” of democracy- 
how democracy oughf to work. But often schools fail to perform 
adequately their informative function: that is, they may fail to tell 
us how democracy does work. What patronage privileges go with 
election to what offices; how the will of the people is sometimes 
subordinated to the will of insurance, railroad, real estate, labor, or 
gambling interests; how the fate of measures is sometimes deter- 
mined not on their merits but by processes of legislative “logrolling” 
(“You vote for my bill and I’ll vote for yours”) — such topics are, 



THE GREAT SNAFU 


258 

like sex, often regarded as not suitable for discussion before “im- 
pressionable young minds.” 8 

Again,, schools tell how “good English” ought to be spoken, but 
rarely take the trouble to describe how the English language is 
spoken. For example, we are all told that a double negative makes 
an affirmative, although nowhere is there any record of an officer 
of law holding a man on a charge of murder on the grounds that 
since the prisoner had said, “I ain’t killed nobody,” his words were 
actually a confession that he had killed somebody. The gap between 
the directives in the teaching of English and the realities of the 
English language are revealed in such a case as this: If a boy ignores 
his arithmetic teacher and states that 8 times 7 are 63, he will be 
laughed at by his friends; but if he obeys his English teacher and 
says, “With whom are you going to the party?” instead of, “Who 
are you going to the party with?” he will also be laughed at. 
Grammar, at least as taught by many old-fashioned teachers, is 
almost purely directive and bears little relation to the way English 
is actually spoken and written. Indeed, some teachers are so gov- 
erned by two-valued rules of what expressions are “right” (under 
all circumstances) and “wrong” (under all circumstances), and so 
exclusively preoccupied with the problem of trying to get students 
to obey unrealistic grammatical directives, that they have long ago 
lost all sense of what language is for. These are the teachers who 
give the impression that the only important thing about any utter- 

6 Many parents react to the realistic discussion of politics in the classroom in 
exactly the same way as they react to the candid (informative) discussion of sex. 
In either case, they make no attempt to deny that the facts are as the teacher repre- 
sents them to be; they simply insist that teachers “have no business telling children 
such things.** Underlying such an attitude is, of course, the traditional educational 
theory to the effect that the way to bring up children is to keep them “innocent” 
(i.e., believing in biological, political, and socioeconomic fairy tales) as long as 
possible. The educational theory underlying this book, namely, that students should 
be given the best possible maps of the territories of experience in order that they 
may be prepared for life, is not as popular as might be assumed. 

It should "be remarked, however, that there is today a vigorous movement, espe- 
cially on the part of social science teachers, to make secondary school education in 
such subjects as civics and government more informative than has been customary in 
the past. In sex education, too, most teachers and many parents have come to 
acknowledge the advantages of giving students “maps that accurately represent 
the territory/* 



SOURCES OF INTENSIONAL ORIENTATION 259 

ance is whether or not it is “grammatical.” Since this is patently 
an absurd position, it is little wonder that students pay no attention 
to them. 

Perhaps the greater part of education in some subjects is direc- 
tive rather than informative. Law schools say much more about 
how law ought to work than about how it does work; the effects 
of the stomach ulcers, domestic troubles, and private economic views 
of judges upon their decisions are not regarded as fit topics for 
discussion in most law schools. History teachers of every nation 
often suppress or gloss over the disgraceful episodes in the histories 
of their nations. The reason for these silences and suppressions is 
that, although such statements may be informatively true, it is 
feared that they may, as directives, have bad effects on “impres- 
sionable minds.” 

Unfortunately, neither students nor teachers are in the habit of 
distinguishing between informative and directive utterances. Teach- 
ers issue such statements as “The United States is the greatest coun- 
trpin the world” and “Water is composed of oxygen and hydrogen” 
and ask their students to regard them as “true,” without telling 
them to distinguish between the two senses of the word “true” 
Students thereupon find that some things their teachers say check 
with experience, while others are either questionable or false when 
examined as if they were informative statements. This creates among 
students, especially at around high school age, an uneasiness — a sense 
that their teachers are “stringing them along” — that leads many of 
them to leave school prematurely. Getting out of school, they feel 
that their suspicions about their teachers were correct, because, 
having mistaken the directive utterances they learned for informa- 
tive, scientific utterances, they naturally find that they were “badly 
misinformed.” Such experiences are probably the basis for that con- 
tempt for the “academic mind” which is so common in some circles. 
The fault is both the teacher’s and the student’s. 

But those who continue in school are often no better off. Having 
indiscriminately lumped together directive and informative state- 
ments, they suffer shock and disillusionment when they get to a 
college where education is more realistic than that to which they 
have been accustomed. Other people continue all the way through 



26 o 


THE GREAT SNAFU 


college to confuse the directive and the informative; they may be 
aided in doing so by the unrealistic educational programs offered 
by the college. In such cases, the longer they go to school, the more 
badly adjusted they become to actualities. We have seen that direc- 
tive language consists essentially of “maps” of “territories-to-be.” 
We cannot attempt to cross a river on a bridge that is yet-to-be 
without falling into the water. Similarly students cannot be ex- 
pected to guide their conduct exclusively by such statements as 
“Good always triumphs over evil” and “Our system of government 
ensures equality of opportunity to all men” without getting some 
terrible shocks. This may account in part for the fact that bitter- 
ness, disillusionment, and cynicism are particularly common among 
people during the first ten years after their graduation from college. 
Some people, indeed, never get over their shocks. 

Education has to be, of course, both informative and directive. 
We cannot simply give information to students without giving 
them some “aspirations,” “ideals,” and “aims” so that they will 
know what to do with their information when they get it. Bu&rit 
is just as important to remember that we must not give them ideals 
alone without some factual information upon which to act; without 
such information they cannot even begin to bring their ideals to 
fruition. Information alone, students rightly insist, is “dry as 
dust.” Directives alone, impressed upon the memory by frequent 
repetition, produce only intensional orientations that unfit students 
for the realities of life and leave them undefended against shock 
and cynicism in later years. 

2. Magazine fiction . The next time the reader gets a printed 
slip giving “instructions for installation” with a car radio, a fog 
light, or similar piece of apparatus, he should notice how much 
close attention the reading of such a slip requires — how much con- 
stant checking with extensional facts: “The wires are distinguished 
from each other by colored threads in the insulation.” We check 
and see if this is so. “Connect the positive wire, indicated by a red 
thread” — we find the wire — “with the terminal marked with the 
letter A. ...” 

He should then contrast such a task of reading with that of read- 
ing a story in one of the “pulp” magazines. This latter task can be 



SOURCES OF INTENSIONAL ORIENTATION 26l 

performed with hardly any attention whatever; we can keep the 
radio going full blast, we can be munching chocolates, we can be 
teasing the cat with our feet, we can even carry on desultory con- 
versations without being unduly distracted from the story. The 
reading of the average magazine story, that is, requires no exten- 
sional checking whatsoever, neither by looking at the extensional 
world around us nor by furrowing our foreheads in attempts to 
recall apposite facts. The story follows nice, easy paths of already 
established intensional orientations . As we have already seen, the 
expected judgments are accompanied by the expected facts. The 
straying hubby returns to his mate, and the little wife who is “true 
blue” triumphs over the beautiful but unscrupulous glamour girl; 
the little son is a “tousled, mischievous, but thoroughly irresistible 
little darling”; the big industrialist is “stern, but has a kindly twinkle 
in his eye.” Such stories are sometimes cleverly contrived, but they 
never, if they can help it, disturb anyone’s intensional orientations. 
Although in real life communists are sometimes charming people, 
they are never presented as such, because in the light of intensional 
orientations, anyone called “communist” cannot at the same time 
be “charming.” Although in real life Negroes often occupy positions 
of dignity and professional responsibility, in magazine stories they 
are never permitted to appear except as comic characters or as 
servants, because, by intensional orientation, Negroes should never 
be anything else. 

There are two important reasons for the maintenance of inten- 
sional orientation in mass-production fiction, political articles, books, 
and radio dramas. The first is that it is easy on the reader. The 
reader is, after all, seeking relaxation. The housewife has just got 
the kids to bed; the businessman has had “a hard day at the office.” 
They do not want to try to account for unfamiliar or disturbing 
facts. They want to daydream . 7 

The other reason is, of course, that such writing is easy on the 
writer. In order to keep the market supplied, he has to produce so 

7 Persons deeply addicted to this narcotic, escape literature usually grow quite 
angry when, by mistake, they happen to read a novel which is sufficiently realistic 
to give a fairly extensional description of poverty, illness, or misfortune. “Isn’t there 
enough unpleasantness in life,” they ask, “without bringing it into literature too?’* 



262 


THE GREAT SNAFU 


many thousands of words a week. Proceeding by intension, as we 
have seen, the orator can go on talking for hours. Likewise proceed- 
ing by intension, the commercial story writer can, unencumbered 
by new facts to be explained or differences to be noted, keep on 
writing page after page. The resulting product is, to be sure, like 
paper towels, fit only to be used once and thrown away. Nobody 
reads a magazine story twice. 

But, the reader may ask, since very few people take such stuff 
seriously anyway, why worry about it ? The reason is that although 
we may not “take it seriously,” our intensional orientations, which 
result from the word-deluge we live in, are deepened by such read- 
ing matter, although we may be quite unaware of the fact at the 
time. We must not forget that our excessive intensional orientations 
blind us to the realities around us. 

3. Advertising . Perhaps the worst offender of all in the creation 
of intensional orientations is advertising as it is now practiced. The 
fundamental purpose of advertising, the announcing of products, 
prices, new inventions, and special sales, is not to be quarreled with^ 
such announcements deliver needed information, which we are 
glad to get. But advertising long ago ceased to restrict itself to the 
giving of needed information, and its principal purpose, especially 
in so-called “national advertising,” has become the creating, in as 
many of us as possible, of automatic reactions . That is to say, there 
is nothing that would profit the national advertiser more than to 
have us automatically ask for Coca-Cola whenever we walked to 
a soda fountain, automatically take Alka-Seltzer whenever we felt 
ill, automatically ask for Chesterfields whenever we wanted to 
smoke. Such automatic reactions are produced, of course, by in- 
vesting “brand names” with all sorts of desiralJle affective connota- 
tions, suggestive of health, wealth, social prominence, domestic bliss, 
romance, personal popularity, fashion, and elegance. The process is 
one of creating in us intensional orientations toward brand names : 

If you want love interest to thrive, then try this dainty way . . . For 
this way is glamorous! It’s feminine! It’s alluring! . . . Instinctively, 
you prefer this costly perfume of Verona Soap . . . It’s a fragrance men 
love. Massage each tiny ripple of your body daily with this delicate. 



SOURCES OF INTENSIONAL ORIENTATION 263 

cleansing lather . . . Thrill as your senses are kissed by Verona’s ex- 
quisite perfume. Be radiant. 

Advertisers further promote intensional habits of mind by playing 
on words: the “extras” of skill and strength that enable champions 
to win games are equated with the “extras” of quality that certain 
products are claimed to have; the “protective blending” that har- 
monizes wild animals with their environment and makes them in- 
visible to their enemies is equated with the “protective blending” of 
whiskies; a business association has for some time been publicizing 
this masterpiece of obfuscation: “If you work for a living you’re in 
Business; what helps Business helps you!” Even the few facts that 
advertising gives us are charged with affective connotations: “It’s 
got vitamins! It’s chock-full of body-building, bone-building, energy- 
building vitamins!!” Meaningless facts are also charged with sig- 
nificance: “See the New Hy-Speed Electric Iron. It’s streamlined!” 

When this advertising by verbal “glamorizing” succeeds in pro- 
ducing these intensional orientations, the act of washing with 
\^rona Soap becomes, in our minds, a thrilling experience; brush- 
ing our teeth with Briten-Whyte tooth paste becomes, in our minds, 
a dramatic and timely warding off of terrible personal calamities, 
such as getting fired or losing one’s girl friend; the smoking of 
cigarettes becomes, in our minds, the sharing of the luxuries of New 
York’s Four Hundred; the taking of dangerous laxatives becomes, 
in our minds, “following the advice of a world-renowned Viennese 
specialist.” 8 That is to say, we are sold daydreams with every bottle 
of mouthwash, and delusions of grandeur with every package of 
breakfast food. 

Advertising has become, in short, the art of overcoming us with 

8 “But,” some people are in the habit of saying", “surely nationally advertised 
products must be good! It stands to reason that a big advertiser couldn’t afford to 
risk hi$ reputation by selling inferior products!” A more perfect illustration of 
intensional orientation could hardly be found. Such people fail to realize, of course, 
that this is precisely the attitude that advertisers bank on. Yet these same people 
would hesitate to say, “Our public officials must be honest! It stands to reason that 
men in their position couldn’t afford to risk their reputation by betraying the public 
interest.” Such a trusting attitude toward public officials is prevented by intensional 
attitudes towards the words “politician” and “bureaucrat,” more often than by 
experience with people in public office. 



THE GREAT SNAFU 


264 

words. When the consumer demands that, as a step towards enabling 
him to orientate himself by facts rather than by the affective con- 
notations of brand names, certain products be required by law to 
have informative labels and verifiable government grading, the ad- 
vertising industry, backed by newspapers and magazines, raises a 
hue and cry about “government interference with business.” For 
example, a pamphlet called “Your Bread and Butter: A Salesman’s 
Handbook on the Subject of Brand Names,” prepared by “Brand 
Names Research Foundation” (no address given), undertakes to 
explain “What’s Behind All the Smoke” of the consumer move- 
ment, which, for many years, has demanded grade-labeling of con- 
sumer goods. Most of the members of women’s organizations in 
the consumer movement, the pamphlet says, are “honestly concerned 
with solving the perennial problems of common sense buying,” but 
a “vocal minority” of “self-appointed champions of the consumer” 
are the “spokesmen.” This minority, it is explained, “want to stand- 
ardize most consumer goods, to eliminate advertising and compet- 
ing brands, to see government controls extended over production, 
distribution and profits. They believe in a planned economy, with 
a government brain trust doing all the planning.” This is the sort of 
argument presented against grade-labeling in spite of the fact that 
businessmen, both retailers and wholesalers , rely extensively on 
grading according to federally established standards when they do 
their own purchasing . This is especially true in the case of canned 
foods, about which consumer groups have been especially insistent 
on grade-labeling. 

Many advertisers prefer that we be governed by automatic reac- 
tions in favor of brand names rather than by consideration of the 
facts about their products. As the same pamphlet explains, if saves 
a lot of time: “her [the shopper’s] time and the time of the over- 
worked clerk. He has no need to sell her if she is already sold on a 
certain brand. All he has to do is wrap it up. ' Salesmen, in other 
words, may be as ignorant of what is in a product as the consumer. 

Indeed, the advertising of products under brand names has, 
within recent years, climbed to higher level of abstraction . In addi- 
tion to the advertising of specific products by brand name, there is 
now advertising of advertising. The pamphlet also urges: “So it’s up 



SOURCES OF INTENSION AL ORIENTATION 265 

to you as a salesman for a brand name to keep pushing not only 
your brand, but brands in general. Get on the Brand Wagon!" 
Says a whisky advertisement: “america is names . . . Seattle, 
Chicago, Kansas City . . . Elm Street, North Main, Times Square 
. . . Wrigley, Kellogg, Squibb, Ipana . . . Heinz, Calvert . . . 
Goodrich . . . Chevrolet. Names [the American has] always known 
. . . names of things he’s bought and used . . . believed in . . . 
Yes, America is names. Good names. Familiar names that inspire 
confidence . . . For America is names . . . good names for good 
things to have. . . This sort of advertising of advertising has 
become increasingly common. The assumption is being dinned into 
us that if a brand name even sounds familiar, the product it stands 
for must be good. (“The best in the land if you buy by brand.”) 
A graver example of systematic public miseducation can hardly be 
imagined, lntensional orientation is elevated to a guiding principle 
in the life of the consumer . 

The writer is not opposed to advertising as such. Advertising is 
p«rhaps the greatest of the verbal forces shaping our daily living 
habits and our culture. It profoundly influences our looks, our man- 
ners, our economic life, our health, our ideas of art, and even our 
ethics. It enlists many of the best paid writers of our time and the 
majority of our artists and photographers. It takes up around 85 per 
cent of the space of mass circulation magazines, somewhat less 
of the space of newspapers, and sponsors something over 95 per cent 
of radio time, where it provides us with music, comedy, news com- 
mentary, and its own strange version of drama. It looks as if it is 
here to stay. 

Furthermore, the basic functions performed by advertising are 
necessary to commeice. The writer finds it difficult to imagine an 
economic system under modern industrial methods of production 
that could operate without advertising in one form or another. Nor 
does the writer object to brand names as such. The advertising pro- 
fession rightly tells us that distinguished brand names stand for 
years of conscientious service and manufacture, with scrupulous 
attention to high standards. The best brand names therefore stand 
for very high degrees of probability that a product will be outstand- 
ingly satisfactory. Brand names have the same kind of meaning that 



266 


THE GREAT SNAFU 


any other words may have, that is, varying degrees of probability 
that the connotations of the name are justified by the characteristics 
of the object named. The manufacturer who sees to it that a product 
“lives up to its name” performs a valuable social function, since in 
one small sector of experience he helps to create a language with a 
high degree of truth-value: “You are sure of a comfortable fit in 
XYZ shirts.” 

What is objected to in advertising, then, is the promotion of patho- 
logical reactions to words and other symbols . Because advertising is 
both so powerful and so widespread, it influences not only our 
choice of products; it influences also our patterns of evaluation . 
It can either increase or decrease the degree of sanity with which 
people respond to words. Therefore, if a product is sold through 
pushing people around with the affective connotations of words 
(“pin-point carbonation,” “activated chlorophyll,” “beware of gingi- 
vitis,” “it contains irium "), such techniques, whether used in behalf 
of good products at fair prices or not, deepen the already grave 
intensional orientations widely prevalent in the public. The schizo- 
phrenic is the kind of person who attributes a greater reality to 
words, fantasies, daydreams, and “private worlds” than to the 
actualities around him. Surely it is possible for advertising to per- 
form the functions necessary to commerce without going out of its 
way to promote schizophrenic patterns of evaluation. 

The willingness to rely on words rather than on facts is a grave 
disorder of the evaluative process. If enough of our fellow-voters 
are afflicted with this disorder, it is at least as serious a threat to 
all of us as the widespread prevalence of smallpox. 


Applications 

I. Collect three or more samples of intensional orientation from each 
of the sources described in this chapter: (i) education; (2) magazine 
fiction; and (3) advertising. Note specifically your reasons for classifying 
each as an example of “intensional orientation.” 

II. Analyze the following selections, comparing and contrasting the 
evaluative habits of these various writers insofar as they are revealed 



APPLICATIONS 


267 

by such short selections. Note especially automatic reactions, two-valued 
responses, confusion of levels of abstraction, and intensional orientation. 
Writing out such an analysis is recommended as a means of clarifying 
your own thinking. 

1. “Socialism is thus for me not merely an economic doctrine which 
I favor; it is a vital creed which I hold with all my head and heart. I 
work for Indian independence because the nationalist in me cannot 
tolerate alien, domination; I work for it even more because for me it is 
the inevitable step to social and economic change. I should like the 
Congress to become a socialist organization and to join hands with the 
other forces in the world who are working for the new civilization. 
But I realize that the majority in the Congress, as it is constituted today, 
may not be prepared to go thus far. We are a nationalist organization, 
and we think and work on the nationalist plane. . . . 

“Much as I wish for the advancement of socialism in this country, 
I have no desire to force the issue in the Congress and thereby create 
difficulties in the way of our struggle for independence. I shall co- 
operate gladly and with all the strength in me with all those who work 
for independence even though they do not agree with the socialist 
solution. But I shall do so stating my position frankly and hoping in 
course of time to convert the Congress and the country to it, for only 
thus can I see it achieving independence. It should surely be possible 
for all of us who believe in independence to join our ranks together 
even though we might differ on the social issue. . , . 

“How does socialism fit in with the present ideology of the Congress? 
I do not think it does. I believe in the rapid industrialization of the 
country. . . . Yet I have co-operated wholeheartedly in the past with 
the khadi program, and I hope to do so in the future because I believe 
that bjiadi and village industries have a definite place in our present 
economy. . . . But I look upon them more as temporary expedients of 
a transition stage rather than as solutions of our vital problems. That 
transit' on stage might*be a long one, and in a country like India, village 
industries might well play an important, though subsidiary, role even 
after the development of industrialism. But, though I co-operate in the 
village-industries program, my ideological approach to it differs consid- 
erably from that of many others in the Congress who are opposed to 
industrialization and socialism. . . . 

“The Congress is an all-inclusive body and represents many interests, 
but essentially it is a political organization with various subsidiary and 
allied organizations, like the Spinners* Association and the Village In- 



268 


THE GREAT SNAFU 


dustries Association. ... It seems to me necessary that the Congress 
should encourage the formation of peasant unions as well as workers’ 
unions, and co-operate with such as already exist, so that the day-to-day 
struggle of the masses might be continued on the basis of their economic 
demands and other grievances. This identification of the Congress with 
the economic struggle of the masses will bring us nearer to them and 
nearer to freedom than anything else.” 

— From the Presidential Address by Jawaharlal Nehru at the 49th 
session of the Indian National Congress, Lucknow, April 1936. 

2. “I asked professors who teach the meaning of life to tell me what 

is happiness. 

And I went to famous executives who boss the work of thousands 
of men. 

They all shook their heads and gave me a smile as though I was 
trying to fool with them. 

And then one Sunday afternoon I wandered out along the 
Desplaines River 

And I saw a crowd of Hungarians under the trees with their 
women and children and a keg of beer and an accordiog/* 

CARL SANDBURG 

3. “English-speaking peoples are all free-speaking peoples. Their 
Union would not be so much an English-speaking as a Free-speaking 
Union. English has long been the language of freedom, as of union. 
Indeed, English is a language in which freedom and friend have the 
same root. . . . 

“These free-speaking peoples do not need to be convinced that no 
community, small or large, can long continue in a state of anarchy, or 
enjoy freedom, peace, and plenty unless it has dependable government. 
Nor need they be persuaded to choose democratic government and reject 
dictatorship. . . . 

“Each of the great languages of mankind can be identified with 
some great field of human striving, in which the men who used it led 
the way for many others. Thus, Latin can be identified with law, Greek 
with knowledge, Hebrew and Arabian with *eligion, Hindu with 
philosophy, Persian with poetry, Chinese with wisdom, Italian with the 
Renaissance, Spanish with exploration, German with the Reformation, 
French with logic and reason, and Russian with economic collectivism. 
Similarly, the English language has become identified with freedom 
and union. . . . 



APPLICATIONS 


269 

“We English-speaking, free-speaking peoples face today a foe more 
ruthless than the Romans. Shall we go the way of the Sparta that was 
petty and the Athens that was proud? Or shall we outdo . . . the glory 
that was Greece? 0 — clarence k. streit, Union Now with Britain 

4. “The pointing up of racial conflicts and injustices is important in 

a study of both the position of the Negro and the state of American 
culture. But the frictions are a healthy sign. They indicate a many- 
sided contact between the two races. The frictions are an evidence of 
the fact that the Negro and white man live in the same community and 
quarrel over the same values. As long as the two races are striving and 
disagreeing over the manifold issues of living in the same culture, then 
it means that they are engaged in the painful process of accommodation 
to each other and to the world. The real danger would be if the Negro 
managed to live in a vacuum where there was no friction between him 
and his white neighbors; then there would be real danger of the de- 
veloping of a perpetual caste system. ... It is desirable that nothing 
should remain static until the issues over which the friction arises have 
themselves ceased to trouble either the white or the blacks. To want 
pe^re when the contrasts are so great is to dream of an unreal world. 
To expect either the white or the Negro community to show neither 
anger nor hate, neither fear nor violence, when their values are chal- 
lenged and their aspirations are frustrated is to ask for the impossible. . . * 
[Friction] shows that the evils complained of are alive, troublesome, 
and impelling. They force men to do something about them. They will 
do many wrong things about them, but, by the same token, many right 
ones. — frank tannenbaum, “An American Dilemma” 

Political Science Quarterly , September 1944 

5. “The bureaucrats in Washington are attempting to destroy the 
liberty and efficiency of the family doctor. In the name of public health, 
they are attempting to introduce socialized medicine such as is now in 
force in Germany and Russia. . . . These New Deal bureaucrats and 
politicians have played politics with hunger, they have played politics 
with cotton, wool, sugar; they have played politics with cattle, sheep, 
swine; they have played politics with highways, cement, droughts, river 
dams, but under God, are we American citizens going to be alert enough, 
to be sufficiently informed, are we going to be patriotic enough, are we 
going to see to it that they do not play politics with morphine, cocaine, 
anaesthetics, the birth of our little children, the physical ailments of 
our mothers and fathers, the intimate details of diseases which affect 



THE GREAT SNAFU 


27O 

our body and which are secrets that are held between us and our family 
physician? ... A government that can regiment your family doctor 
can do what Germany has done; it can regiment your community 
Church. A government that can make a political jobholder out of your 
family physician is the same sort of dictatorial regime that can make 
a prisoner out of the minister of Christ.” 

— Newspaper editorial (around 1943-44) 

6. “Ten prominent leaders of American labor : . . have published 
the most crushing indictment of the New Deal yet produced . . . : ‘The 
most tragic result of the seven years of experiment has been the destruc- 
tion of confidence, by incessant tinkering with established forms and 
procedures/ 

“There is probably no word in the English language better qualified 
to describe the experimental activities of the New Deal than tinkering. 

“According to the dictionary, a tinkerer is ‘a butcher, a bungler/ 

“The act of tinkering is called ‘an unskillful attempt to mend or 
improve/ 

“To tinker is ‘to make futile attempts to mend, repair or improve; 
to potter fruitlessly/ 

“To tinker is to act ‘in a makeshift, botching manner/ 

“Now for seven years, according to the appraisal of these ten labor 
leaders, the New Deal has been: 

“ ‘Tinkering with the wages and hours of labor under the NRA. 

“‘Tinkering with the cost of labor’s food under the AAA. 

“ ‘Tinkering with property rights. 

“ ‘Tinkering with the foundations of American government/ . . . 

“In the light of this record, what else can be said of the New Deal 
than that it has been a ‘botcher and a bungler 5 ? 

“What is the New Deal record, except ‘An unskilled attempt to mend 
or improve’? 

“What else has the New Deal done, except ‘tQ potter fruitlessly’ and 
to act ‘in a makeshift, botching manner’?” 

—Editorial, Chicago Her aid- American (around 1940) 



1 6. Rats and Men 


The realization of the pathetic frailty of the \nowledge or be- 
liefs on which our life depends thus leads not to despair but to 
open-eyed courage . But it also points to a most intimate connec- 
tion between scientific method and liberal civilization . Science 
is not, as is popularly conceived , a new set of dogmas taught by 
a newer and better set of priests cdled scientists . It is rather a 
method which is based on a critical attitude to all plausible and 
self-evident propositions. It see\s not to reject them, but to 
find out what evidence there is to support them rather than their 
possible alternatives. This open eye for possible alternatives, 
each to receive the same logical treatment before we can deter- 
mine which ts the better grounded, is the essence of liberalism 
in art, morals, and politics. . . . Li\e science, liberalism insists 
on a critical examination of the content of all our beliefs, prin- 
ciples, or initial hypotheses and on subjecting them to a con- 
tinuous process of verification so that they will be progressively 
better founded in experience and reason . 

MORRIS R. COHEN 


“Insoluble” Problems 


Professor N. R. F. Maier of the University of Michigan has per- 
formed a series of experiments in which “neurosis’* is induced in 
rats. The rats are first trained to jump off the edge of a platform at 
one of two doors. If the rat jumps to the right, the door holds fast, 
and it bumps its nose and falls into a net; if it jumps to the left, 
the door opens, and the rat finds a dish of food. When the rats are 
well trained to this reaction, the situation is changed. The food is 
put behind the other door, so that in order to get their reward they 
now have to jump to the right instead of to the left. (Other changes, 
such as marking the two doors in different ways, may also be in- 



RATS AND MEN 


272 

troduced by the experimenter.) If the rat fails to figure out the new 
system, so that each time it jumps it never knows whether it is 
going to get food or bump its nose, it finally gives up and refuses 
to jump at all. At this stage, Dr. Maier says, “Many rats prefer to 
starve rather than make a choice.” 

Next, the rats are forced to make a choice, being driven to it 
by blasts of air or an electric shock. “Animals which are induced 
to respond in the insoluble problem situation,” says Dr. Maier, 
“settle down to a specific reaction (such as jumping solely at the 
left-hand door) which they continue to execute regardless of conse- 
quences. . . . The response chosen under these conditions becomes 
fixated. . . . Once the fixation appears, the animal is incapable of 
learning an adaptive response in this situation.” When a reaction 
to the left-hand door is thus fixated, the right-hand door may he 
left open so that the food is plainly visible . Yet the rat, when pushed, 
continues to jump to the left, becoming more panicky each time. 
When the experimenter persists in forcing the rat to make choices, 
it may go into convulsions, racing around wildly, injuring its cla% T s, 
bumping into chairs and tables, then going into a state of violent 
trembling, until it falls into a coma. In this passive state, it refuses 
to eat, refuses to take any interest in anything: it can be rolled up 
into a ball or suspended in the air by its legs — the rat has ceased to 
care what happens to it. It has had a “nervous breakdown.” 1 

It is the “insolubility” of the rat's problem that: leads to its nervous 
breakdown, and, as Dr. Maier cautiously intimates, it is the “in- 
solubility” of human problems that leads many human beings to 
have nervous breakdowns. Rats and men seem to go through pretty 
much the same stages. First, they are trained to make habitually a 
given choice when confronted by a given problem; secondly, they 
get a terrible shock when they find that the conditions have changed 
and that the choice doesn’t produce the expected results; third, 
whether through shock, anxiety, or frustration, they may fixate on 
the original choice and continue to make that choice regardless of 
consequences; fourth, they sullenly refuse to act at all; fifth, when by 
external compulsion they are forced to make a choice, they again 

1 Norman R. F. Maier, “Two Types of Behavior Abnormality in the Rat,** Bulletin 
of the Menningcr Clinic t July 1943, pp. 141-47. 



“insoluble ' problems 273 

make the one they were originally trained to make — and again get 
a bump on the nose; finally, even with the goal visible in front of 
them, to be attained simply by making a different choice, they go 
crazy out of frustration. They tear around wildly; they sulk in 
corners and refuse to eat; bitter, cynical, disillusioned, they cease 
to care what happens to them. 

Is this an exaggerated picture? It hardly seems so. The pattern 
recurs throughout human life, from the small tragedies of the home 
to the world-shaking tragedies among nations. In order to cure 
her husbands faults, a wife may nag him. His faults get worse, so 
she nags him some more. Naturally his faults get worse still — and 
she nags him even more. Governed, like the rat, by a fixated re- 
action to the problem of her husband’s faults, she can meet it only 
in one way. The longer she continues, the worse it gets, until they 
are both nervous wrecks; their marriage is destroyed, and their 
lives are shattered. 

Again, an industrialist, feeling that he has to increase the amount 
of#production per worker, may order production increases per- 
emptorily without adequate consultation with union officials and 
shop stewards to secure their co-operation. When they react to his 
orders with objections and countersuggestions — some of the objec- 
tions will be genuine, of course, but some will arise from a simple 
determination not to be pushed around — he may, on the basis of 
intensional orientations about unions in general, decide to “get 
tough” to show them “who is boss.” The workers, on the basis of 
intensional orientations about employers in general, may decide 
that he is trying to “bust their union” and respond to toughness 
with equal toughness. The employer, angered by this, makes even 
more rigid demancte for “efficiency.” The employees, equally 
angered, accuse him of trying to institute an unfair “speed-up” and 
deliberately slow down. When a fellow-industrialist suggests to him 
that the problem might be solved by inviting the union to take 
part in a joint labor-management committee, he snorts, “Not with 
those birds, you can’t!” Every meeting between union and manage- 
ment becomes an increasingly acrimonious set-to, until both sides 
are unable to speak to each other except through the mediation of 
expensive and belligerent attorneys. Result: the lowest production 



RATS AND MEN 


274 

and the highest labor costs in the corporation’s history, with “shat- 
tered nerves” on both sides. 

Again, a nation may believe that the only way to secure peace 
and dignity is through strong armaments. This makes neighboring 
nations anxious, so that they increase their armaments too. There 
is a war. The lesson of the war, the first nation declares when it is 
all over, is that we were not strongly enough armed to preserve 
peace; we must double our armaments. This naturally makes the 
neighboring nations twice as anxious, so that they double their 
armaments too. There is another war, bigger and bloodier. When 
this is over, the first nation declares: “We have learned our lesson. 
Never again shall we make the mistake of underestimating our de- 
fense needs. This time we must be sure to be sufficiently armed to 
preserve peace. This time we must triple our armaments. . . 

Of course these instances are purposely oversimplified, but are 
not vicious circles of this kind responsible for the fact that we often 
are unable to get at or do anything about the conditions that lead 
to such tragedies? The pattern is frequendy recognizable; the gfal 
may be in sight, attainable only by a change in methods. Neverthe- 
less, governed by fixated reactions, the rat “cannot” get food, the 
wife “cannot” cure her husband’s faults, labor and management 
“cannot” remain at peace, and wars “cannot” be prevented. 

How about our other apparently insoluble problems? Why does 
our nation want to manufacture and sell to the people within its 
borders at higher prices the things it could import more cheaply 
from elsewhere? Why, if it continues to send away more of its 
natural resources, more of' the products of its soil’s fertility, more 
of the products of its labor than it receives in exchange from other 
nations, does it consider that it has a “favorable” balance of trade ? 
And why, when we are all agreed that lower trade barriers between 
nations are necessary to world peace, do we have the difficulties we 
do in lowering any of the barriers? Why do people speak bitterly 
about the illiteracy and ignorance of Negroes and then use their 
illiteracy and ignorance as grounds for opposing any measures for 
ameliorating their condition ? Why, above all, when every nation is 
agreed that another world war would be unthinkably awful and 
must be avoided at all costs, are the major powers breathlessly mak- 



“insoluble” problems 275 

mg preparations for another war? The world is full of such para- 
doxes. 


Cultural Lag 

A basic reason for such “insoluble” problems in society is what 
might be called “institutional inertia.” An “institution,” as the 
word is used in sociology, is “an organized pattern of group be- 
havior, well-established and accepted as a fundamental part of a 
culture” ( American College Dictionary ). Human beings are so 
constituted that they inevitably organize their energies and activi- 
ties into patterns of behavior more or less uniform throughout a 
social group. In other words, the existence of a social institution 
means that large numbers of people have accepted such patterns: 
people in a communist (or capitalist) society accept and perpetuate 
communist (or capitalist) habits of economic behavior; army men 
acquire and perpetuate an army way of thinking and acting; priests 
acquire and perpetuate priestly habits of thought and behavior; 
veteran professional ballplayers pass on their behavior patterns to 
the rookies. 

A peculiar fact about institutions is that, once people have be- 
come accustomed to them, they eventually get to feeling that their 
institutions represent the only right and proper way of doing things. 
The institution of human slavery was, for example, claimed by its 
defenders to be “divinely ordained,” and attacks upon the institu- 
tion were regarded as attacks upon natural law, reason, and the will 
of God. Those who had contrary institutions, on the other hand, 
regarded their system of free labor as “divinely ordained,” and 
slavery as contrary to natural law, reason, and the will of God. In 
a similar way today, those who believe in corporate capitalist enter- 
prise regard their way of organizing the distribution of goods as 
the only proper way; while communists adhere to their way with 
the same passionate conviction. This loyalty to one’s own institu- 
tions is understandable: almost everyone in any culture feels that 
his institutions are the very foundations of reasonable living. A 
challenge to those institutions is almost inevitably felt to be a threat 



RATS AND MEN 


276 

to all orderly existence. (Ask a clergyman, “Is it necessary to have 
churches in order to maintain religion and the moral order ?” Ask 
a general, “Is it necessary to have an army in order to maintain 
peace ?” Ask a stock-broker, “Is the stock exchange necessary?” 
Ask a teacher, “Are schools necessary?” The first, unreflective 
answer will be “Yes,” and after reflection, in the vast majority of 
cases, the answer will continue to be “Yes.” The fact that almost 
everyone tends to defend his institutions against challenge or attack 
is the basis of social stability.) 

Consequently, social institutions tend to change slowly — and, most 
importantly — they tend to continue to exist long after the necessity 
for their existence has disappeared, and sometimes even when their 
continued existence becomes a nuisance and a danger. Such con- 
tinued existence of obsolete institutional habits and forms (like the 
systems of county government in many states of the Union, geo- 
graphically arranged to suit the needs of a horse-drawn rural pop- 
ulation) is called by sociologists “cultural lag.” In everyday lan- 
guage, “cultural lag” is summed up in a peculiarly appropriate 
expression, “horse-and-buggy” ways. 


The Fear of Change 

The pressing problems of our world are then problems of cultural 
lag — problems arising from trying to organize a jet-propelled, super- 
sonic, electronic, and atomic world with horse-and-buggy institu- 
tions . 2 The rate of technological advancement, for almost two hun- 
dred years now, has been greater than the rate of the change of 
our social institutions and their accompanying loyalties and ideol- 
ogies; and the disparity between the two rates is increasing rather 
than decreasing. Consequently, in every contemporary culture which 
has felt the impact of technology, people are questioning the ap- 
plicability of nineteenth-century (or earlier) institutions to twentieth- 
century facts; they are progressively more alarmed at the dangers 

2 This is not to say, of course, that all contemporary institutions are obsolete. Many 
institutions are both very old and very satisfactory. Others are changing rapidly 
enough to keep up with changes in society. 



THE FEAR OF CHANGE 


277 

arising from old-fashioned patriotism in a world that has become 
technologically one; they wonder with increasing anxiety about 
the possibility of attaining a sane world economic order with the 
instruments of nineteenth-century capitalism (or of nineteenth- 
century socialism). In Baltimore, Chungking, Cairo, Istanbul, 
Kyoto, Peoria, or Mexico City, wherever technologies are producing 
changes not adequately matched by changes in social institutions, 
there are people under strain and tension. 

Some, of course, meet these strains and tensions in the only 
sensible way they can be met: they strive to change or abandon 
outmoded institutions and to bring into being new institutions or 
newer forms of old institutions. Changes in educational practice, 
in governmental organization, in the responsibilities of trades 
unions, in the structure of corporations, in the techniques of Iibrar- 
ianship, in the marketing of agricultural commodities, and so on, 
go on all the time because extensional people are constantly striving 
to bring institutions into closer relationship with reality. An espe- 
cially successful example of institutional adaptation is the Federal 
Deposit Insurance Corporation. Prior to 1934, bank failures resulted 
in the partial or total loss of the savings of depositors; panics, once 
started, were almost impossible to control. Since the setting up 
of FDIC, however, panics have disappeared; bank failure: have 
been so reduced that in 1949 it was reported that there had not 
been a failure among banks insured under FDIC for five years. 
Today almost all banks are so insured, and there is more confidence 
in our banking system than at any previous time in the nation’s 
history. The solution of banking problems was found in the adapta- 
tion of the institutions of insurance and the federal corporation 
to a new form of activity. The Tennessee Valley Authority is 
again an example of the successful creation of a vast new institution 
to solve problems left unsolved by older institutions. The ways in 
which the going patterns of behavior and the desires of farm 
organizations, river engineers, consumers of electrical power, ship- 
pers, chambers of commerce, county and state governments, public 
health authorities, and all other institutions concerned were exten- 
sionally examined and then skillfully taken account of and fitted 
into an over-all plan is vividly described by David Lilienthal in 


K 



RATS AND MEN 


278 

his book, TV A: Democracy on the March — an extraordinarily in- 
teresting description of the extensional approach to social prob- 
lems and its possibilities when applied to a large-scale enterprise. 

Some people, however, seeing the need for changes, agitate for 
cures which, on careful examination, appear to be no better than 
the ailment; still others agitate for changes that cannot possibly be 
brought about. However, in some of the most important areas of 
human life — especially in our ideas about international relations 
and in the deeply related problem of an equitable world economic 
order — areas in which our failure to find solutions threatens the 
future of civilization itself — we are, all over the world, in a state 
of cultural lag. 

What causes this cultural lag? Obviously, in the case of many 
groups, the cause is ignorance. Some people manifestly don’t know 
the score, so far as the realities of the modern world are concerned. 
Their “maps” represent “territories” that have long since passed 
out of existence. In other cases, the lag is due to fixed economic 
or political interests. Many individuals enjoy power and pre^ige 
within the framework of outmoded institutions — and with institu- 
tional inertia to support them, it is not hard for them to believe that 
their familiar institutions are beautiful and wonderful things. In- 
deed, there is little doubt that the desire of the wealthy and powerful 
to keep their wealth and power is a major reason for cultural lag 
in any society. Threatened with social change, they often act in such 
narrowly short-sighted and selfish ways that, like the Bourbons, they 
seem willing to destroy both the civilization they live in and them- 
selves in grim, pigheaded attempts to hang on to their prerogatives. 

But wealth and power are not in themselves guarantees either of 
social irresponsibility or of stupidity, and the existence of a powerful 
wealthy class in a culture is not in itself a guarantee that there will 
be cultural lag. At least some of the rich and powerful have known 
how to yield gracefully to institutional adjustments — sometimes they 
have even helped to introduce them — and by so doing they have 
maintained their favored position and have saved both society and 
themselves from the disasters that attend complete social disruption. 
When this happens, cultural lag is kept small enough to be man- 
ageable. 



THE FEAR OF CHANGE 279 

But when the rich and powerful are shortsighted and irresponsi- 
ble, they are able to hold back necessary institutional adjustments 
only if they have enough support among those who are neither 
rich nor powerful. In accounting for cultural lag, then, we must 
account for the shortsightedness of the ordinary citizen who sup- 
ports policies that are contrary to his own interests, in addition to 
accounting for the shortsightedness of the powerful. In addition to 
institutional inertia (which is a tremendous force keeping people 
busy doing things they should have stopped doing long ago), it 
appears that fear is another major force influencing both rulers and 
the ruled in the direction of institutional rigidity. Perhaps the 
ultimate strength of cultural lag comes from those persons in all 
walks of life whom change has made afraid. 


The Revision of Group Habits 

V^hether the cultural lag arises from inertia, from shortsighted 
selfishness, from fear of change, or from a combination of these and 
other reasons, it is clear that the solution of social problems is 
basically a matter of adapting institutional habits to new conditions. 
The housing shortage following World War II was predicted by 
government authorities, by businessmen, and by ordinary citizens. 
It came as no surprise to anyone. Yet adequate measures were not 
taken to prevent its occurrence, and four years after the close of the 
war, most communities had still not taken adequate measures. 
The reason, of course, was not technological, biit institutional. To 
build houses, especially on any large scale, requires dealing with 
innumerable institutions: special municipal, state, and federal legis- 
lation may be needed; delinquent taxes on vacant property have to 
be taken care of somehow and clear title obtained; zoning laws, 
insurance regulations, building ordinances, sanitary laws, and so 
on, have to be observed; the cooperation of banks and real estate 
firms has to be secured and agreements have to be made as to 
terms of financing; contractors, suppliers, and labor unions all have 
their going institutional habits governing who shall do what under 
what conditions; and the availability of everything needed in ma- 



28 o 


RATS AND MEN 


terials or services is governed by the condition of the market under 
the institutions of the profit economy and the price system. Each 
step in the building of houses (and there are thousands of steps) 
involves the intermeshing of dozens of institutions, each demand- 
ing that everything be done in the institutionally prescribed manner. 
Proposals on the part of progressive industrialists to mass-produce 
houses cannot be taken advantage of, not because of technological, 
but because of institutional, obstacles. Each of the institutional de- 
mands, at the time they had originated in the earlier history of the 
industry, had appeared reasonable and necessary. But the combina- 
tion of all the demands in a period of acute shortage resulted in an 
almost complete throttling of production. (A similar housing short- 
age, originating from like causes, developed in the years following 
World War I.) 

Perhaps the most dramatic thing about human behavior is how 
many problems which are “insoluble” for institutional reasons are 
promptly solved the moment a war breaks out. War is an institu- 
tion the demands of which, at least in modern culture, take pu^ce- 
dence over almost all other demands. Before the war, it would 
have been “impossible” to send the slum children of London to 
the country for the sake of their health. But when the air raids on 
London began, the evacuation of all the children took place over a 
week end. Institutionally-minded men, before the war, demon- 
strated time and again that it was “impossible” for either Germany 
or Japan to fight without an adequate gold supply. Nevertheless, 
Germany and Japan did manage to put up quite a fight in spite of 
the predictions of extremely reputable editorialists and news com- 
mentators. At Sydenham, England, and at Biarritz, France, the 
American government put together, almost overnight dher the 
war closed, two great universities for GI’s in Europe. Textbooks 
and equipment were flown over, luxurious quarters were provided 
for the thousands of students, and distinguished professors from 
the leading universities of America were hired at handsome salaries 
in order to provide, for a very short time, an educational Utopia 
for war-wearied American soldiers. In peacetime, is there any con- 
ceivable way in which a similar university could be set up, say, in 



THE REVISION OF GROUP HABITS 28l 

Mississippi, which, as the state that has the least per capita to spend 
on education, would be in greatest need of it? 

If the United States were to go to war again tomorrow, and if it 
were shown to be a war necessity that housing in all the principal 
cities be immediately increased by 25 per cent, it is probable that 
the houses would be built in less than a year — with much the same 
determination with which the United States during World War II 
produced, in spite of all the statements from captains of industry 
that it was “impossible,” the 50,000 planes a year which President 
Roosevelt said were necessary. Also, during the war, a degree of 
international co-operation among Allied nations that overturned 
all kinds of going institutional habits — the exchange of military 
secrets, the coordination of chiefs of staff, the joint carrying out 
of military and supply plans, the joint working out of diplomatic 
policies — was immediately achieved, only to be given up again 
when the war was over. One of the lessons of the war has been 
that institutions, while powerful and long-lasting, are often not 
insuperable if the emergency is great enough . 

The problem, then, the world over, is to learn that the emergency 
in international affairs (as in so many other things) is great enough 
to require the modifying or abandoning of some of our institutions. 
And the problem for us as citizens, once we understand the emer- 
gency, is how we can contrive ways of adjusting our ways of think- 
ing and acting so that institutional adjustments may be made both 
realistically and rapidly, with a minimum of human suffering and 
the maximum of general benefit. 


The Extension;*! Approach 

Every widely debated public issue — proposed changes in labor 
laws, proposed changes in the methods of distributing medical care, 
proposals for unifying the armed services under a single command, 
proposals to set up new ways of settling disputes between nations — 
is, then, a discussion of institutional adaptation. If we persist in 
discussing our social problems in terms of “justice” versus “injus- 
tice,” “natural law, reason, and the will of God” versus “the forces of 



282 


RATS AND MEN 


anarchy and chaos,” reactions of fear and anger become general on 
both sides — and fear and anger paralyze the mind and make in- 
telligent decision impossible. The escape from this two-valued debate 
lies in thinking about social problems as problems of institutional 
adaptation. Once we begin to do so, our questions with respect to 
hotly debated social issues begin automatically to become more ex- 
tensional. We cease to ask whether a proposed institutional change 
is “right” or “wrong,” “progressive” or “reactionary.” We begin to 
ask instead, “What will be the results? Who would benefit, and by 
how much? Who would be harmed, and to what degree? What 
safeguards does the proposal contain to prevent further harm? 
Are people actually ready for such a measure? What will be the 
effect on prices, on the labor supply, on public health, or whatever? 
And who says so, on the basis of what kind of research and what 
kind of expert knowledge?” From extensional answers to such ex- 
tensionally directed questions, decisions begin to flow. 

The decisions that flow from extensional information are neither 
“left-wing” nor “right-wing.” In science, which is the most ^sys- 
tematically extensional of disciplines, there are neither “leftists” nor 
“rightists”; there are only degrees of competence. Who is the most 
competent scientist is determined not by debate but by comparing 
the accuracy of the predictions made. Those who make the most 
accurate predictions are universally conceded at once to be the best 
scientists. It is true that the accuracy of predictions on social issues 
leaves much to be desired compared with the accuracy of predictions 
obtainable in the physical sciences. But, in principle, increasing ac- 
curacy of prediction about the results of social actions is not impos- 
sible of attainment. When experts disagree on social issues, our 
present: custom is to pour money into publicity campaigns to ballyhoo 
the opinions of those who testify on “our side.” If, in such cases, 
we had the habit of pouring the same amount of money into scien- 
tific research (which would, if at all successful, bring experts into 
more and more agreement) every difference of opinion could be a 
starting point for further advances in knowledge, instead of, as at 
present, the source of further confusion. 

Here, let us say, is a proposed municipal ordinance to permit 
trucks to pass over Oak Street bridge. Backing the measure are 



THE EXTENSIONAL APPROACH 283 

the truck lines who will save much time and money if the measure 
is passed. If our discussion of the proposal is reasonably extensional, 
our questions about it will be of the following kind: “Will the 
bridge structure stand the additional load? What will be the effect 
on traffic flow on Oak Street and streets approaching it? Is there 
danger of an increase in street accidents? Will the beauty of the 
city be adversely affected? What will be the effect on. residences or 
businesses on and near Oak Street?” Such questions having been 
answered by persons of known ability in the making of accurate 
predictions in their several fields of knowledge, every voter has 
the materials with which to decide the question for himself accord- 
ing to his own interests and values, whether he is concerned with 
the safety of his children walking to school, with the beauty of the 
city, with trucking profits, with the effect on the tax rate, or what- 
ever. Each voter’s decision, made against a background of responsi- 
bly made predictions, will have some kind of reasonable relation- 
ship to his real desires. 

I^t us further suppose, however, that the measure is advantageous 
to practically no one in town except the truck lines. Then, if the 
truck lines want the measure passed, they will have to try to prevent 
the public from discussing the issue extensionally. The technique 
(familiar in the discussion of legislation affecting railroads, insur- 
ance, wartime price controls, housing, medical care, and so on) is 
immediately to move the discussion to higher levels of abstraction 
and to talk about “unreasonable restraints on business,” the need 
for protecting “free enterprise” and “the American way” against 
harassment by “politicians,” “officeholders,” and “petty bureau- 
crats.” By systematic confusion of levels of abstraction, the “free- 
dom” of truck lines ??o operate over Oak Street bridge is made to 
appear one with the freedom fought and bled for at Valley Forge. 

The tragedy is not only that many of us are innocent enough to 
be deceived by this sort of talk; a deeper tragedy is that in many 
communities the newspapers provide us with no more extensional 
materials for discussion. Partly because newspapers are large busi- 
nesses themselves and often feel a community of interest with other 
large businesses; partly because some of them have long ago given 
up reporting in favor of printing material prepared for them by 



RATS AND MEN 


284 

syndicated columnists, press agents, public relations counsels, and 
pressure groups; partly because sensational, two-valued utterances 
of extreme partisans make “livelier” stories than the factual testi- 
mony of extensionally-minded experts; and partly because some 
editors and publishers seem themselves to be even more susceptible 
to the razzle-dazzle of high-level abstractions than the least educated 
members of the general public, newspapers are in some communi- 
ties almost worthless as sources of information on important public 
issues. 

With respect to such questions as the federal control of tidelands 
oil or the federal control of grazing rights in national forests, the 
consequences of specific actions or regulations can be predicted, al- 
though the task will be greater than that of predicting the results 
of a change in traffic regulations over a local bridge. In neither the 
oil nor the grazing rights controversy is the point at issue a matter 
of “federal power” versus “states’ rights,” as is so often declared. 
“Federal power” is an extremely abstract term; so is “states’ rights.” 
By intensional orientation, “The greater the power of centralized 
government, the greater the threat to liberty. . . . Think of Ger- 
many under Hitler . . . think of Russia. . . . Do you want a police 
state?” By intensional orientation, the fight for “states’ rights” is 
the fight of brave little local Davids against a huge federal Goliath. 
But the extensional facts are that “federal power” or “states’ rights” 
may both be used either for or against the liberties of the individual. 
Federal power can tyrannize, but it can also protect individuals 
against the tyrannies of states, or states against the tyrannies of 
great national corporations or combines. States can also tyrannize, 
or protect against tyranny. Most of the uproar about “federal power” 
and “states’ rights” has no meaning apart from specific proposals as 
to what powers (state or federal) are to be exercised in what ways 
for what purposes . 

The discussion, then, of all such questions must be extensional. 
If federal control of tidelands oil is abandoned, what will happen? 
How will the availability of oil for commercial or defense needs be 
affected? What will be the effect on prices? Who will profit and 
to what degree? Who will be deprived and to what degree? If 
unlimited grazing of cattle on federal lands is permitted, who will 



THE EXTENSIONAL APPROACH 285 

profit and to what degree, and who will be harmed? What dangers 
are there to soil conservation, to the water level, to flood control, to 
the national food supply, to recreation areas, to game and wildlife 
management, in the alternative proposals of the contending parties? 
Once extensional answers to such questions are given and widely 
publicized, the need of people to line themselves up into ‘‘leftist’' 
and “rightist” camps disappears. People become free to decide 
issues according to their real, rather than their imagined, interests, 
whether those interests be broad or narrow, selfish or idealistic. 

But under present circumstances, the tenor of discussion (and 
therefore of public opinion) is such that the replacement of malad- 
justments by new maladjustments and the continuation of old 
maladjustments under new names are about as near as we can get 
to institutional adaptation with respect to some of our most press- 
ing problems. 


Tke End of the Road 

When, as the result of protracted debate of a futile kind, years 
pass without the successful accomplishment of institutional adjust- 
ments, cultural lag grows progressively more serious. As social dis- 
locations grow more serious, fear and confusion spread. As fear 
and confusion spread, societies, like individuals, grow increasingly 
disturbed at their failure to solve their problems. Lacking the con- 
fidence or the knowledge to try i\ew patterns of behavior and at 
the same time panicky with the knowledge that their traditional 
methods no longer work, societies often appear to behave, to a 
greater or less degree, like Dr. Maier’s rats, who, “induced to 
respond in the insoluble problem situation, settle down to a specific 
reaction which they continue to make regardless of circumstances. 
. . . The response under these conditions becomes fixated. . . . 
Once the fixation appears, the animal is incapable of learning an 
adaptive response in this situation.'’ Thus do societies, as they have 
so often done in the past and continue to do today, fixate on one 
solution to their most pressing problem: the only way to appease 
the angry gods is to throw' still more babies to the crocodiles; the 



RATS AND MEN 


286 

only way to combat disease is to detect and hunt down still more 
people guilty of witchcraft; the only way to prosperity is to impose 
still higher protective tariffs; the only way to insure peace is to 
have still greater armaments. 

Such are the mental blockages that prevent us from meeting our 
“insoluble” problems with the only approach which can ever help 
us solve them: the extensional approach — for we cannot distribute 
goods, feed people, or establish co-operation with our neighbors by 
intensional definitions and high-level abstractions. That which is 
done in the extensional world must be done by extensional means, 
no matter who does them. If we as citizens of a democracy are 
going to carry our share in the important decisions about the things 
that concern us so greatly, such as the problems of peace and a just 
world economic order, we must prepare ourselves to do so by com- 
ing down out of the clouds of high-level abstractions and learning 
to consider the problems of the world, whether at local, state, na- 
tional, or international levels, as extensionally as we now consider 
the problems of getting food, clothing, and shelter. ^ 

If, however, we cling to our fixations and our intensional orienta- 
tions, and the belligerent, two-valued sense of “I am right and you 
are wrong” which they produce, we have little before us but a fate 
similar to that of Dr. Maier’s rat. We shall remain pathologically 
incapable of changing our ways of behavior, and there will be noth- 
ing for us to do but, like the rat, to try the same wrong solutions 
over and over again. After prolonged repetition of such futile con- 
duct, would it be remarkable if we found ourselves finally in a 
condition of political “nervous breakdown” — sick of trying, and 
willing to permit dictators to dangle us upside down by our tails? 


The Scientific Attitude 

The most striking characteristic of science has been its continued 
success in the solving of “insoluble” problems. It was once con- 
sidered “impossible” to devise means of traveling over twenty miles 
an hour, but now we have attained speeds of over six hundred miles 
an hour. It was “impossible” for man to fly — people “proved” it 



THE SCIENTIFIC ATTITUDE 287 

again and again — but now we fly across oceans as a matter of every- 
day routine. The writer was told repeatedly during the course of his 
education that the release of atomic energy was merely a theoretical 
possibility — of course, they would never actually do it. The scientist 
may almost be called the professional accomplisher of the “impos- 
sible.” He does this because, as a scientist, he is extensionally 
orientated, bje may be, and often is, intensionally orientated toward 
what he calls “nonscientific” subjects; therefore, the physical scien- 
tist talking about social or political problems is often no more 
sensible than the rest of us. 

As we have seen, scientists have special ways of talking about 
the phenomena they deal with, special “maps” to describe the “ter- 
ritories” with which they are concerned. On the basis of these maps, 
they make predictions; when things turn out as predicted, they 
regard their maps as “true.” If things do not turn out as predicted, 
however, they discard their maps and make new ones; that is, they 
act on new sets of hypotheses that suggest new courses of action . 
Ayiin they check their map with the territory. If the new one does 
not check, they cheerfully discard it and make still more hypotheses, 
until they find some that wor\. These they regard as “true,” but 
“true” for the time being only. When, later on, they find new situa- 
tions in which they do not work, they are again ready to discard 
them, to re-examine the extensional world, and to make still more 
new maps that again suggest new courses of action. 

When scientists work with a minimum of interference from 
pecuniary or political influences — when, that is, they are free to 
pool their knowledge with their co-workers all over the world and 
to check the accuracy of each other’s maps by observations inde- 
pendently made and*freelv exchanged — they make rapid progress. 
Highly multi-valued and extensional in their orientations, they are 
troubled less than any other men by fixed dogmas and nonsense 
questions. In a way that is paradoxical in terms of traditional orien- 
tations but quite understandable in terms of the new, the conversa- 
tion and the writings of scientific people are full of admissions of 
ignorance and declarations of partial knowledge. The writer has 
often been impressed by the frequency with which such expressions 
as the following appear in the conversation of the nuclear physicists 



288 


RATS AND MEN 


with whom he has been acquainted: “According to Szilards last 
paper — although there may be still later findings not yet pub- 
lished. . . “No one knows exactly what happens, but our guess 
is that it’s something like this. . . “What I tell you is probably 
wrong, but it’s the only plausible theory we’ve been able to con- 
struct. . . It has been said that knowledge is power, but effective 
knowledge is that which includes knowledge of the limitations of 
one's knowledge. 

The last thing a scientist would do would be to cling to a map 
because he inherited it from his grandfather or because it was used 
by George Washington or Abraham Lincoln. By intensional orienta- 
tion, “If it was good enough for Washington and Lincoln, it’s good 
enough for me.” By extensional orientation, we don't know until 
we have checked . 


The Left-Hand Door Again 

Notice the differences between the technological, scientific atti- 
tudes that we have toward some things and the intensional attitudes 
we have toward others. When we are having a car repaired, we 
think in terms of mechanisms. We do not ask: “Is the remedy you 
suggest consistent with the principles of thermodynamics? What 
would Faraday or Newton have done under similar circumstances? 
Are you sure that the remedy you suggest does not represent a 
degenerative, defeatist tendency in the technological traditions of 
our nation? What would happen if we did this to every car? What 
has Aristotle to say on this?” These are nonsense questions. We 
only ask, “What will be the results ?” < 

But a different thing happens when we are trying to have society 
repaired. Few people have a sense of societies as mechanisms — as 
collections of going institutions. Accustomed to thinking of social 
problems in terms of simple moral indignation, we denounce the 
wickedness of labor unions (or of capitalists), we denounce the 
wickedness of those who clamor for Negro rights (or of those who 
persecute Negroes), we denounce Russia (or, if we are Russians, 



THE LEFT-HAND DOOR AGAIN 289 

we denounce “American imperialism”). So doing, we miss entirely 
the basic requirement of “mapping” social problems, namely, the 
initial task of describing the established patterns of group behavior 
(i.e., the institutions) that constitute a society and create its social 
problems. Indignant at the wickedness of those with whom we dis- 
agree, we do not ask of a proposed institutional change what the 
results will be. We are usually more interested in “punishing the 
wicked” than in the practical results. And suggested social remedies 
are almost always discussed in the light of questions to which 
verifiable answers cannot be given: “Are your proposals consistent 
with sound economic policy? Do they accord with the principles of 
justice and reason? What would Alexander Hamilton, Thomas 
Jefferson, or Abraham Lincoln have said? Would it be a step in 
the direction of communism or fascism? What would happen if 
everybody followed your scheme? Why don’t you read Aristotle?” 
And we spend so much time discussing nonsense questions that often 
we never get around to finding out exactly what the results of pro- 
pelled actions would be. 

During the course of our weary struggles with such nonsense 
questions, someone or other is sure to come along with a campaign 
to tell us, “Let’s get bac\ to normalcy. . . . Let’s stick to the good 
old-fashioned \ tried-and-true principles. . . . Let’s return to sound 
economics and sound finance. . . . America must get bac\ to this. 
. . . America must get bacl{ to that. . . Most of such appeals 
are, of course, merely invitations to take another jump at the left- 
hand door — in other words, invitations to continue driving our- 
selves crazy. In our confusion we accept those invitations — with the 
same old results. 


Applications 

I. Taking some community you know well, jot down some of its 
problems of cultural lag other than those mentioned in this chapter. 
What sort of questions would an extensionally orientated person be 
likely to ask if called upon to help in solving some one of these prob- 
lems? What resource groups or persons would he be likely to consult? 



RATS AND MEN 


290 

II. Two friends of yours, both strongly opinionated but not at all 
well informed, one vigorously in favor of and the other vigorously op- 
posed to “socialized medicine” (whatever either of them might mean 
by the term), are coming to your house tonight to spend the evening 
in. conversation. Prepare some remarks you can throw into the discus- 
sion and some questions you might ask that might help make them 
see the problems of the distribution of medical care as a problem of 
institutional adjustment (of course, you will avoid using such fancy 
terms) and therefore help them keep the discussion at more extensional 
levels of discussion than they would otherwise employ. Warning: Do 
not start out by making them define “socialized medicine” (see pp. 

171-173)- 



17 . Towards Order Within 
and Without 


But I say unto you , That every idle word that men shall spea\, 
they shall give account thereof in the day of judgment. For by 
thy words thou shalt be justified and by thy words thou shall 
be condemned . 

MATTHEW 12:36-37 


Rules for Extensional Orientation 

Just as a mechanic carries around a pair of pliers and a screw 
dr^er for use in an emergency — just as we all carry around in our 
heads tables of multiplication for daily use— so can we all carry with 
us in our heads convenient rules for extensional orientation. These 
rules need not be complicated; a short, rough-and-ready set of 
formulas will do. Their principal function will be to prevent us 
from going round in circles of intensional thinking, to prevent auto- 
matic reactions, to prevent us from trying to answer unanswerable 
questions, to prevent us from repeating old mistakes endlessly. They 
will not magically show us what better solutions are possible, but 
they will start us looking for better courses of action than the old 
ones. The following rules, then, are a brief summary of the parts 
of the book that dirfectly apply to problems of evaluation. These 
rules should be memorized. 

1. A map is not the territory it stands for; words are not things. 

A map does not represent all of a territory; words never say all 
about anything. 

Maps of maps, maps of maps of maps, and so on, can be made 
indefinitely, with or without relationship to a territory. (Chapters 
2 and 10.) 



292 TOWARDS ORDER WITHIN AND WITHOUT 

Z The meanings of words are not in the words; they are in us. 

(Chapters 2 and 11.) 

3 . Contexts determine meaning (Chapter 4) : 

I like fish. (Cooked, edible fish.) 

He caught a fish. (Live fish.) 

You poor fish! (Not fish at all.) 

To fish for compliments. (To seek.) 

4 . Beware of the word “is,” which, when not simply used as an 

auxiliary verb (“he is coming'’), can crystallize misevaluations: 

The grass is green. (But what about the part our nervous system 
plays? Chapters 10 and n.) 

Mr. Miller is a Jew. (Beware of confusing levels of abstraction. 
Chapters 11 and 12.) 

Business is business. (A directive. Chapter 7.) 

A thing is what it is. (Unless this is understood as a rule of lan- 
guage, there is danger of ignoring alternative ways of classifying, 
as well as of ignoring the fact that everything is in process* of 
change. Chapters 10, 13, and 14.) 

5 . Don’t try to cross bridges that aren’t built yet. Distinguish be- 
tween directive and informative statements. (Chapter 7.) 

6 . Distinguish at least four senses of the word “true”: 

Some mushrooms are poisonous. (If we call this “true,” it means 
that it is a report that can be and has been verified. Chapter 3.) 

Sally is the sweetest girl in the world. (If we call this “true,” it 
means that we jeel the same way towards Sally. Chapters 6 
and 8.) 

All men are created equal. (If we call this “true,” it means that 
this is a directive which we believe should be obeyed. Chapter 7.) 

(x + y) 2 = x 2 + 2xy + y 2 . (If we call this “true,” it means that 
this statement is consistent with the system of statements pos- 
sible to be made in the language called algebra. Chapter 14.) 

7 . When tempted to “fight fire with fire,” remember that the fire 

department usually uses water. (Chapter 14.) 



RULES FOR EXTENSIONAL ORIENTATION 293 

8. The two-valued orientation is the starter , not the steering ap- 
paratus. (Chapter 14.) 

9 . Beware of definitions, which are words about words. Think with 
examples rather than definitions wherever possible. (Chapter 10.) 

10. Use index numbers and dates as reminders that no word ever 

HAS EXACTLY THE SAME MEANING TWICE. 

Cowi is not cows, C0W2 is not cows, . . . 

Smithi949 is not Smithioso, Smithioso is not Smithiosi, . . . 

If these rules are too much to remember, the reader is asked to 
memorize at least this much: 

COVVi IS NOT COW2, C0W2 IS NOT COW3, . . . 

This is die simplest and most general of the rules for extensional 
orientation. The word “cow” gives us the intensional meanings, 
informative and affective; it calls up in our minds the features that 
this “cow” has in common with other “cows.” The index number, 
however, reminds us that this one is different; it reminds us that 
“c&w” does not tell us “all about” the event; it reminds us of the 
characteristics left out in the process of abstracting; it prevents us 
from equating the word with the thing, that is, from confusing the 
abstraction “cow” with the extensional cow. 


Symptoms of Disorder 

Not to observe, consciously or unconsciously, such principles of 
interpretation is to dtink and react in primitive and infantile ways. 
There are a number of ways in which we can detect unhealthy 
reactions in ourselves. One of the most obvious symptoms is sudden 
displays of temper. When blood pressure rises, quarrels become 
excited and feverish, and arguments end up in snarling and name- 
calling, there is a misevaluation somewhere in the background. 

Another obvious symptom is worry — when we keep going round 
and round in circles. “I love her. ... I love her. . . . Oh, if I 
could only forget that she is a waitress! . . . What will my friends 
think if I marry a waitress? . . . But I love her. ... If only she 



294 towards order within and without 

weren’t a waitress!” But waitress i is not waitress2. “Gosh, what a 
terrible governor we’ve got! . . . We thought he was a business- 
man, but he proves to be only a politician . . . . Now that I think 
of it, the last governor wasn’t too bad. . . . Oh, but he was a poli- 
tician too, and how he played politics ! . . . Can’t we ever get a 
governor who isn’t a politician?” But politiciani is not politician. 
As soon as we break these circles and think about facts instead of 
words, new light is thrown on our problems. 

Still another symptom of unhealthy reactions is a tendency to be 
oversensitive, easily hurt, and quick to resent insults. The infantile 
mind, equating words with things, regards unkind words as unkind 
acts. Attributing to harmless sets of noises a power of injuring, 
such a person is “insulted” when those noises are uttered at him. 
So-called “gentlemen” in semisavage and infantile societies used to 
dignify reactions of this kind into “codes of honor.” By “honor,” 
they meant extreme readiness to pull out swords or pistols when- 
ever they imagined that they had been “insulted.” Naturally, they 
killed each other off much faster than was necessary, illustrating 
again a principle often implied in this book: the lower the boiling 
point, the higher the mortality rate. 

It has already been pointed out that the tendency to talk too much 
and too readily is an unhealthy sign. We should also be w r ary of 
“thinking too much.” It is a mistake to believe that productive 
thinkers necessarily “think harder” than people who never get 
anywhere. They only think more efficiently. “Thinking too much” 
often means that somewhere in the back of our minds there is a 
“certainty” — an “incontrovertible fact,” an “unalterable law,” an 
“eternal principle” — some statement which we believe “says all” 
about something. Life, however, is constantly throwing into the face 
of our “incontrovertible certainties” facts that do not fit oiir pre- 
conceptions: “Politicians” who aren't corrupt, “friends” who aren't 
faithful, “benevolent societies” that aren't benevolent, “insurance 
companies” that don't insure. Refusing to give up our sense of 
“certainty” and yet unable to deny the facts that do not fit, we are 
forced to “think and think and think.” And, as we have seen be- 
fore, there are only two ways out of such dilemmas: first, to deny 
the facts altogether, and secondly, to reverse the principle altogether, 



SYMPTOMS OF DISORDER 295 

so that we go from " All insurance companies are safe” to “No in- 
surance companies are safe.” Hence such infantile reactions as, “111 
never trust another woman!” “Don’t ever say politics to me again!” 
“I’m through with newspapers for good!” “Men are all alike, the 
heels!” 

The mature mind, on the other hand, knows that words never 
say all about anything, and it is therefore adjusted to uncertainty . 
In driving a car, for example, we never know what is going to 
happen next; no matter how often we have gone over the same 
road, we never find exactly the same traffic conditions. Nevertheless, 
a competent driver travels over all kinds of roads and even at high 
speeds without either fear or nervousness. As driver, he is adjusted 
to uncertainty — the unexpected blowout or the sudden hazard — 
and he is not insecure . 

Similarly, the intellectually mature person does not “know all 
about” anything. And he is not insecure, because he knows that the 
only kind of security life offers is the dynamic security that comes 
frqgn within : the security derived from infinite flexibility of mind — 
from an infinite-valued orientation . 

“Knowing all” about this, “knowing all” about that, we have 
only ourselves to blame when we find certain problems “insoluble.” 
With some working knowledge of how language acts, both in our- 
selves and others, we save both time and effort; we prevent ourselves 
from running around in verbal squirrel cages. With an extensional 
orientation, we are adjusted to the inevitable uncertainties of all our 
science and wisdom. And whatever other problems the world 
thrusts upon us, we at least escape those of our own making. 


The Lost Children 

Then there are the unhappy people who dont know “all about 
this” or “all about that,” and wish they did . Being in a more or less 
chronic state of anxiety about not knowing all the answers, they 
are always looking for “the answer” that will forever still their 
anxieties. They drift from one church, political party, or “new 
thought” movement to another; they may drift from one psychia- 



296 TOWARDS ORDER WITHIN AND WITHOUT 

trist to another i£ they are educated, or from one fortuneteller to 
another if they are not. Occasionally such people happen upon 
fortunetellers, political leaders, of systems of thought that hit them 
just right. Thereupon they are suddenly overwhelmed with relief 
and joy. Feeling that they have found the answer to all their prob- 
lems, they become passionately devoted to spreading the news to 
everyone they know. 

A major source both of the excessive anxiety which such people 
feel and of their excessive enthusiasm when they do find their 
problems “solved” has been described by psychiatrists. An adult — 
an emotionally mature person — is independent, able to work out his 
own answers to problems, and able to realize that there is no one 
answer to everything. If, however, we have not been brought up 
to be independent — if, for example, we were deprived of love and 
care at an age when we needed love and care, or if we had parents 
who did too much for us through excessive and misdirected love — 
we grow up physically mature but, as psychiatrists say, emotionally 
immature. We continue to need, no matter what our age, a parqyt- 
symbol: some figure of comforting authority to whom we can turn 
for “all the answers ” Successively we will seek, if we are so trou- 
bled, one parent-symbol after another when we can no longer 
depend on our own parents — sometimes a kindly teacher, some- 
times an authoritative and impressive clergyman, sometimes a 
fatherly employer, sometimes a political leader. 

From our point of view as students of human linguistic behavior, 
the verbal aspects of this search for a parent-symbol deserve atten- 
tion. Those who, for one reason or another, are unable to accept a 
priest, teacher, or political leader as a parent-symbol, may find a 
parent-symbol in a big, systematic collection of words — for example, 
a huge and difficult-to-understand philosophical work, a politico- 
economic philosophy, a system of “new thought,” or the Hundred 
Great Books. “Here, here,” they cry, “are all the answers in one 
place!” Finding “all the answers” in such collections of words is a 
sophisticated, and in our culture, a respectable form of both emo- 
tional immaturity and what we have earlier called naivete regarding 
the symbolic process. It is emotional immaturity because it involves 
the giving up of independent thought in favor of dependence on a 



THE LOST CHILDREN 297 

(verbal) parent-symbol. It is nevertheless respectable, because those 
who manifest their immaturity in this way acquire, in doing so, 
an impressively complicated and abstract vocabulary which they 
exhibit on all possible occasions — and our culture respects the fluent 
talker, especially one who talks at high levels of abstraction. This 
dependence on verbal parent-symbols is also naive because it as- 
sumes what we have already seen to be an impossible assumption, 
namely, that a verbal “map” can “say all” about the “territory” of 
experience. 

This is not to say, of course, that an enthusiasm for a “great book,” 
or for a hundred of them, is necessarily a symptom of imma- 
turity. However, there is a world of difference between the en- 
thusiasm of the emotionally immature and that of the mature. An 
immature person, discovering a new intellectual system or philos- 
ophy that somehow meets his needs, tends to adopt it uncritically, to 
repeat endlessly the verbal formulas with which he has been pro- 
vided, and to resent any imputation that anything more needs to he 
discovered. The mature reader, on the other hand, pleased and ex- 
cited as he may be by the “great book” he has found, is eager to 
test it. Are these new and exciting principles or human insights as 
general as they appear to be? Are they true in many different 
cultural or historical contexts? Do they need revision or refinement 
or correction? How do the principles or attitudes apply in specific 
cases and under different conditions? As he asks himself these and 
other questions, he may find that his newly discovered system is 
quite as important as he originally thought it to be, but, along with 
his increased sense of power, he also gets a deep sense of how much 
more there is to he learned. 

Indeed, the better and more widely useful a new philosophical or 
scientific synthesis is, the greater will be the number of fresh prob- 
lems raised. The answers given to perplexing questions by Darwin 
in his Origin of Species did not stop biological inquiry; they gave 
biology the greatest spurt to fresh inquiry in modern times. The 
answers given by Freud to psychological questions did not stop 
psychology; they opened up whole new areas of investigation, 
“Great books” are those which open great new questions to which 



298 TOWARDS ORDER WITHIN AND WITHOUT 

there is hope of finding fruitful answers. Great books are misread 
if their effect is to stop investigation. 1 

In other words, the wiser people become, whether in science, 
religion, politics, or art, the less dogmatic do they become. Appar- 
ently, the better we know the territory of human experience, the 
more aware do we become of the limitations of the verbal maps we 
can make of it. We have earlier (Chapter 11) called this awareness 
of the limitations of maps “consciousness of abstracting.” The ma- 
ture person retains “consciousness of abstracting” even with re- 
spect to philosophies or systems of thought about which he feels 
the greatest enthusiasm. 


“Know Thyself” 

Another area in which “consciousness of abstracting” is necessarv 
is in what we say to ourselves about ourselves. We are all a great 
deal more complex than Bessie the Cow, and even more than Bessie, 
we are constantly undergoing change. Furthermore, wc all describe 
ourselves to ourselves in some kind of language (or other abstrac- 
tions, like “mental pictures,” “idealizations,” or “images”). These 
descriptions of ourselves are more or less clearly formulated: “I am 
the home-loving type,” “I am beautiful,” “I am hopelessly unattrac- 
tive,” “I believe in efficiency,” “I am kind-hearted,” “I’m not that 
kind of a girl,” “I am not a snob,” “I am a friend of the down- 
trodden,” and so on. All such statements are more or less accurate 
“maps” of that “territory” which is ourselves. Some people make 
better maps of themselves than others. If a person makes a reason- 
ably good map of himself, we say that he “knows himself,” — that 
he accurately assesses his strengths and his limitations, his emotional 

1 The communist use of the writings of Marx and Lenin appears to the writer to 
be a misreading of books which were in their time important contributions to social 
science. The communists have treated all dctiations trorn Marx and Lenin (or at 
lemt deviations from their interpretations of Marx and Lenin) as attacks upon 
“Truth,” and seem thereby to have rendered the progress of social science in the 
Soviet Union almost impossible. See Anatol Rapopnrt, “f lialcxtical Materialism and 
General Semantics,’* in ETC.: A Review oj General Semantics, Winter 1948, pp* 
81-104. 



“know thyself ’ 7 


299 

powers and his emotional needs. The psychologist Carl R. Rogers 
refers to this “map” we make of ourselves as the “self-concept,’* 
which, according to his terminology, may be “realistic” or “un- 
realistic.” What we do, how we dress, what manners or mannerisms 
we affect, what tasks we undertake and what tasks we decline, what 
kind of society we seek, and so on, are determined not so much by 
our actual powers and limitations as by what we believe to be our 
powers and limitations — i.e., our “self-concepts .” 2 

All that has previously been said in this book about maps and 
territories applies with special relevance to our “selt-concepts.” A 
map is not the territory: one’s self-concept is not one’s self. A map 
represents not all of the territory: one's self-concept omits an enor- 
mous amount of one’s actual self — we never know ourselves com- 
pletely. Maps of maps of maps, and so on, can be made: one may 
describe oneself tt> oneself, and then make about oneself any number 
of inferences and generalizations at higher levels of abstraction. 

The pitfalls of map-territory relationships therefore threaten the 
arjpquacy of our evaluations of ourselves just as much as they 
threaten the adequacy of our evaluations of other people and of 
external events. Indeed, as is suggested in the famous Socratic in- 
junction, “Know thyself,” it is more than probable that our wisdom 
in evaluating other people and external events rests largely upon our 
wisdom in evaluating ourselves. What kinds of “maps,” then, do 
we make of ourselves? 

Some people obviously have extremely unrealistic self-concepts. 
The person who says, “I have the ability to act as general manager” 
and accepts such a job, and then turns out not to have the ability, 
seriously disappoints himself and others. If another person says, “I’m 
not arty good” and takes himself seriously when he says this, he may 
dissipate his talents, his opportunities, his entire life. The not un- 
common sight of the middle-aged woman who dresses and acts like 
an eighteen-year-old is another instance of the kind of person who 
lives in terms of an extremely unrealistic self-concept. 

2 Carl R. Rogers, unpublished paper, “A Comprehensive Theory of Personality’* 
0948). See also Prescott Lecky, Sel j- C onsistency: A Theory of Personality, Island 
Press, 1945, and Gardner Murphy, Personality; A, Biosocial Approach to Origins and 
Structure, Harper, 1947. 



300 TOWARDS ORDER WITHIN AND WITHOUT 

Furthermore, there are those who do not seem to realize that their 
self-concepts do not include all the relevant facts about themselves. 
As psychiatrists have shown us time and again, we all have a 
way of concealing from others and from ourselves our deeper reasons 
for doing things; instead, we offer, in justification of our acts, more 
or less elaborate rationalizations. Let us suppose, for example, that 
a critic has given as his reason for attacking a book its “shoddy 
argument and bad prose style.” Let us suppose, furthermore, that 
his deeper reasons are entirely different, such as professional jealousy, 
his psychological need not to believe the book because of its up- 
setting ideas, or a personal quarrel with the author ten years earlier. 
If the reviewer believes that his self-concept “says all” about him- 
self, his picture of himself as “one who believes in rigorous logic 
and high standards of prose style” becomes to him a complete and 
adequate account of why he dislikes the book. In other words, the 
most common effect of not knowing that one’s self-concept does 
not “say all” about one’s self is the tendency on the part of many 
people to believe their own rationalizations . Some persons, inde#d, 
believe their “self-concepts” so completely and sincerely — that is, 
they surround themselves with such airtight rationalizations — that 
they become incapable of any genuine self-knowledge. 

Self-knowledge, of course, is often disturbing: statements of the 
kind “My real reason for not liking this book is that I’m jealous of 
the author,” “The reason I am not getting ahead is that I am less 
intelligent than my colleagues,” and so on, are extremely difficult to 
face if wc are emotionally insecure. Therefore, we often need to 
believe our rationalizations: “The book is shoddy in its arguments,” 
“The reason I am not getting ahead is that my colleagues are con- 
spiring against me.” If the need to believe in these inaccurate maps 
is strong enough, we can shut our eyes to any amount of evidence 
that contradicts them. 

How do we prevent ourselves from getting into this emotional 
situation? Those who are already in it can probably be helped only 
by a professionally trained counselor or a psychiatrist. But for the 
rest of us, there remain the day-to-day problems of action and de- 
cision; the more realistic our self-concepts are, the more likelihood 



"KNOW THYSELF" 301 

there is of fruitful action and sane decision. Can we do anything 
to achieve a greater realism about ourselves ? 


Reports and Judgments 

There is at least one thing psychological counselors and many 
psychiatrists do which people who are capable of some degree of self- 
insight can, to a greater or lesser degree, do for themselves. As we 
have seen, we manufacture false self-concepts because truer state- 
ments are unbearable. The reason they are unbearable is often that 
they involve the uncritical acceptance from our environment (from 
what our friends and neighbors say, or what we think they are 
saying) of other people's judgments . Using the word “judgment” 
here as we have used it in Chapter 3, notice the difference between 
“I am a filling-station attendant” (which is a report) and “I am 
only a filling-station attendant” (which involves a judgment, imply- 
ing that I ought to be something different and that it is disgraceful 
that I am what I am). 

One of the most important aspects of a psychiatrist's or counselor's 
assistance is the fact that he does not pass any judgments on us . 
When we admit to him that we are “only” a filling-station attendant, 
or that, back in April 1943, we cracked up under the stress of battle, 
the psychiatrist or counselor helps us by indicating, by word or 
by manner, that, while he understands our feelings of shame or 
guilt, he does not in any way condemn us for being what we are 
or for having done what we have done. In other words, he helps us 
change the judgment, “I am only a filling-station attendant and 
therefore I am not imich good ” back into the report, “I am a fllling- 
station'attendant.” The judgment, “I cracked up in battle and I am 
a coward” is changed into, “1 cracked up in battle ” As a result of 
the psychiatrist’s or counselor’s acceptance of us, we are better able 
to accept ourselves. 

The fact that we permit other people’s judgments (and what we 
believe to be their judgments) to influence us unduly is one of the 
commonest reasons for feelings of inferiority and guilt and inse- 
curity. If a man says to himself, “I am a Negro,” and simultaneously 



302 TOWARDS ORDER WITHIN AND WITHOUT 

accepts the judgment of certain white people on Negroes, it is 
hard to be a Negro, and he may spend the rest of his life being 
jumpy and defensive and miserable. If a man makes fifty dollars a 
week and accepts the real or imagined judgment of others that if 
he were any good he would be making a hundred, it is difficult to 
face the fact of making fifty. The training suggested in Chapter 3 of 
writing reports from which judgments are excluded may be applied 
to writing about ourselves . Such self-descriptions are an especially 
helpful technique in arriving at more realistic self-concepts. 

We should, in performing this exercise, put down facts about 
ourselves^-especially the facts about which we feel some shame or 
embarrassment — and then ask with respect to each fact such ques- 
tions as these: “Is it necessary to pass judgment at all on this fact?” 
“Who passes judgment on this fact, anyway, and should I also do 
so?” “Are no other judgments possible?” “What does an unfavor- 
able judgment on one of my actions in the past prove about what 
I am today?” Reports of the following kind may lead to such re- 
evaluations as are indicated in the parentheses: fI 

I am a filling-station attendant. (Some people think it is somehow 
“inferior” to be a filling-station attendant. Do / have to think so too?) 

I am a Jew. (Is this good or bad? Or isn’t this a silly question? Who 
says it’s bad to be a Jew?) 

I cracked up on the battlefield. (Who says I shouldn’t have cracked 
up? Were they there? Did they have to go through what I did? I was 
psychologically wounded in battle; others were physically wounded. Why 
don’t they give Purple Hearts to psychiatric casualties?) 

I am a housewife. (Well?) < 

Naturally, if one’s rationalizations are deeply rooted, this tech- 
nique is difficult to practice. For example: 

My real reason for disliking this book is professional jealousy. (Oh, 
no! The author’s arguments are shoddy and his style is awful!) 

But as we grow increasingly extensional about our own feelings 
— as we grow in our ability to accept *our selves, so that we are able 
to confront without judgments of good or bad such reports as, “I 
am below average in height,” “I am not athletic,” “I am the child 



REPORTS AND JUDGMENTS 303 

of divorced parents,” “My sister gets better grades than I do,” “I 
never went to college,” and so on — we progressively have less and 
less need to deceive ourselves. In self-knowledge as in science , the 
conquest of little areas leads progressively to the conquest of larger 
and more difficult areas . As our self-concepts grow more realistic, 
our actions and decisions become progressively wiser, since they are 
based on a more accurate “mapping” of that complex territory of 
our own personalities. 


Institutionalized Attitudes 

Another way in which we can increase our extensional awareness 
of ourselves is by distinguishing between attitudes institutionally 
arrived at and attitudes extensionally arrived at. As we have seen 
in Chapter 16, we are all members of institutions, and as members 
of institutions we incorporate into ourselves certain institutionally 
demanded attitudes. If we are Democrats, we are expected to sup- 
port all Democratic candidates. If we belong to an employers’ asso- 
ciation, our fellow-members may expect us to be hostile to all labor 
unions. If we are Montagues, we are expected to be hostile to the 
Capulets. 

A source of widespread misevaluation implicit in such institu- 
tionalized attitudes is that each of them involves a generalization at 
a high level of abstraction, while actual Democratic candidates, 
labor unions, and Capulets exist at the level of extensional fact. 
Many persons are, through emotional insecurity as well as through 
lack of an extensional orientation, unable to depart from institution- 
ally expected attitudes. Seeking security by adopting the “official” 
point of view prevalent in the institutions of which they are mem- 
bers, they become excessively conventional and excessively given to 
commonplace ideas and emotions. They feel what they are ex- 
pected to feel by their political party, their church, their social 
group, or their family; they think what they are expected to think. 
They find it both easier and safer not to examine too extensionally 
any specific Democratic candidate, any specific labor union, any 
specific Capulet, because extensional examination of any one of 



304 TOWARDS ORDER WITHIN AND WITHOUT 

these might lead to an evaluation different from the institutionally 
accepted point of view. 

But to have nothing but institutionalized attitudes is eventually 
to have no personality of ones own, and therefore to have nothing 
original or creative to contribute to the institutions of which one is 
a member. Furthermore, there is the danger to one's personal ad- 
justment implicit in continually living by high level generalizations 
and repressing (or avoiding) extensional evaluations. 

The rule already suggested for the avoidance of excessively in- 
tensional attitudes is helpful for the avoidance of excessively con- 
ventional, institutionalized attitudes, because intensional attitudes 
are often the result of the uncritical acceptance of institutional 
dogmas. With the application of the cowi is not cowa rule, we 
begin to loo\ in order to find out if Democrati differs in any im- 
portant respects from Democrats, if labor unioni differs from 
labor union2, if Capuleti differs from Capulets. As the result of 
such extensional examination we may find that the original insti- 
tutional attitudes were the correct ones after all; or we may fyid 
it necessary, as Romeo and Juliet did, to depart from them. But 
whatever conclusions we may arrive at, the important thing is that 
they will be our own — the result of our own extensional examination 
of the events or objects to be evaluated. 

People who are not accustomed to distinguishing between atti- 
tudes institutionally arrived at and those extensionally arrived at 
are capable of real self-deception. In a real sense, they don’t know 
which of their opinions are simply a parrot-like repetition of insti- 
tutional opinions, and which are the result of their own experience 
and their own thinking. Lacking that self-insight, they are unable 
to arrive at realistic self-concepts; they are unable to map accurately 
the territory of their own personalities. 


Reading Towards Sanity 

A few words, finally, need to be said on the subject of reading as 
an aid to extensional orientation. Studying books too often has the 
effect of producing excessive intensional orientation; this is espe- 



READING TOWARDS SANITY 305 

dally true in literary study, for example, when the study of words 
— novels, plays, poems, essays — becomes an end in itself. When 
the study of literature is undertaken, however, not as an end in 
itself, but as a guide to life, its effect is extensional in the best sense. 

Literature works by intensional means; that is, by the manipula- 
tion of the informative and affective connotations of words. By 
these means, it not only calls our attention to facts not previously 
noticed, but it also is capable of arousing feelings not previously 
experienced. These new feelings in turn call our attention to still 
more facts not previously noticed. Both the new feelings and the 
new facts, therefore, upset our intensional orientations, so that our 
blindness is little by little removed. 

The extensionally orientated person, as has been repeatedly said, is 
governed not by words only, but by the facts to which the words 
have guided him.* But supposing there were no words to guide us? 
Should we be able to guide ourselves to those facts? The answer is, 
in the vast majority of cases, no. To begin with, our nervous sys- 
tems are extremely imperfect, and we see things only in terms of 
our training and interests. If our interests are limited, we see ex- 
tremely little; a man looking for cigarette butts in the street sees 
little else of the world passing by. Furthermore, as everyone knows, 
when we travel, meet interesting people, or have adventures before 
we are old enough to appreciate such experiences, we often feel that 
we might just as well not have had them. Experience itself is an 
extremely imperfect teacher. Experience does not tell us what it 
is we are experiencing. Things simply happen. And if we do not 
know what to loo\ for in our experience, they often have no sig- 
nificance to us whatever. 

Mary people put a great deal of stock in experience as such; they 
tend automatically to respect the person who has “done things.” 
“I don’t want to sit around reading books,” they say; “I want to 
get out and do things! I want to travel! I want to have experiences!” 
But often the experiences they go out and get do them no good 
whatever. They go to London, and all they remember is their hotel 
and the American Express Company office; they go to China, and 
their total impression is that “there were a lot of Chinamen there”; 



30 6 TOWARDS ORDER WITHIN AND WITHOUT 

they may have served in the South Pacific and remember only their 
dissatisfaction with their K-rations. The result often is that people 
who have never had these experiences, people who have never been 
to those places, know more about them than people who have. We 
all tend to go around the world with our eyes shut unless someone 
opens them for us. 

This, then, is the tremendous function that language, in both its 
scientific and its affective uses, performs. In the light of abstract 
scientific generalizations, “trivial” facts lose their triviality. When 
we have studied, for example, surface tension, the alighting of a 
dragonfly on a pool of water is a subject for thought and explana- 
tion. In the light of reading The Grapes of Wrath , a trip through 
California is a doubly meaningful experience. And we turn and 
look at migrant families in all other parts of the country as well, 
because Steinbeck has created in us new ways of feeling about a 
subject that we may formerly have ignored. In the light of the 
subtleties of feeling aroused in us by the literature and poetry of 
the past, every human experience is filled with rich significances 
and relationships. 

The communications we receive from others, insofar as they do 
not simply retrace our old patterns of feeling and tell us things we 
already know,, increase the efficiency of our nervous systems. Poets, 
as well as scientists, have aptly been called “the window washers of 
the mind”; without their communications to widen our interests 
and increase the sensitivity of our perceptions, we could very well 
remain as blind as puppies. 

Language, as has been repeatedly emphasized in these pages, is 
social . 3 Reading or listening, writing or talking, we are constantly 
involved in the processes of social interaction made possible by 
language. Sometimes, as we have seen, the result of that social 

8 Although the principles which have been explained throughout this book have 
as their purpose the establishment of agreement and the avoidance of conflict, some 
people may be tempted to use them as weapons with which to stir up arguments, 
as clubs with which to beat people over the head: “The trouble with you, Joe, is 
that you’ve got a bad case of two-valued orientation,” “For God’s sake, Mabel, stop 
being so intensionalf” Those who use the formulations of this book in this way 
may be said to have understood it but dimly. 



READING TOWARDS SANITY 307 

interaction, is the sharing of knowledge, the enrichment of sym- 
pathies and insight, and the establishing of human co-operation. 
But at other times, the social interaction does not come out so well: 
every exchange of remarks, as between two drunks at a bar or be- 
tween two hostile delegates at the United Nations Security Council, 
leads progressively to the conviction on the part of each that it is 
impossible to co-operate with the other. 

We come back, then, to the judgments explicitly announced at 
the beginning of this book — the ethical judgments on which the 
argument has been based throughout — that widespread intraspecific 
co-operation through the use of language is the fundamental mech- 
anism of human survival, and that, when the use of language re- 
sults, as it so often does, in the creation or aggravation of disagree- 
ments and conflicts, there is something wrong with the speaker, 
the listener, or bath. Sometimes, as we have seen, this “something 
wrong” is the result of ignorance of the territory which leads to 
the making of inaccurate maps; sometimes it is the result, through 
faulty evaluative habits, of refusing to look at the territory but 
insisting on talking anvway; sometimes it is the result of imperfec- 
tions in language itself which neither speaker nor listener have 
taken the trouble to examine; often it has been the result, through- 
out the history of the human race, of using language not as an in- 
strument of social cohesion, but as a weapon. The purpose of this 
book has been to lay before the reader some of the ways in which, 
whether as speakers or listeners, we may use or be used by the 
mechanisms of linguistic communication. What the reader may wish 
to do with these mechanisms is up to him. 




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Bentley, Arthur F. , Linguistic Analysis of Mathematics , The Principia 
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Burke, Kenneth, The Philosophy of Literary Form , Louisiana State 
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A Grammar of Motives , Dobson, 1947. 

Burrow, Trigant, The Social Basis of Consciousness, Kegan Paul, 1 9 2 7 * 

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* 933 - 



Xll 


SELECTED BIBLIOGRAPHY 


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Leavis, Q. D., Fiction and the Reading Public , Chatto and Windus 
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Lecky, Prestcott, Self-Consistency: A Theory of Personality , Island 
Workshop (New York), 1945. 



SELECTED BIBLIOGRAPHY 


Xlll 


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Acknowledgments 


Grateful acknowledgment is due to the following for permission 
to quote from copyright material : 

Jonathan Cape, Ltd. : “Naming of Parts,” from Henry Reed’s 
A Map of Verona. 

Faber and Faber, Ltd. : “Moving through the silent crowd,” from 
the poems of Stephen Spender. 

Harcourt x Brace Sc Co., Inc. : “Naming of Parts,” from the poems 
of Henry Reed. 

Henry Holt & Co., Inc.: “Happiness,” from Carl Sandburg’s 
Chicago Poems. 

Houghton Mifflin Co. : “Ars Poetica,” by Archibald MacLeish. 

Frieda Lawrence and Wm, Heinemann, Ltd.: passages from 
D. H. Lawrence’s Phoenix. 

Macmillan Sc Co., Ltd. : “Invictus,” from the poems of W. E. 
Henley. 

The Society of Authors : “Terence : this is stupid stuff” and “Could 
man be drunk for ever,” by A. E. Housman. 

Other copyright works from which brief quotations have been 
made, and to which the author gratefully acknowledges his indebted- 
ness, include the following : 

Arnold Bennett’s Literary Taste (Cape). 

Leonard Bloomfield’s Language (Allen and Unwin). 

Bennetf Cerf’s Try and Stop Me (Simon and Schuster). 

Morris Cohen’s The Faith of a Liberal (Holt). 

John T. Flynn’s Country Squire in the White House (Doubleday). 

Ernest Hemingway’s A Farewell to Arms (Cape). 

H. R. Huse’s The Illiteracy of the Literate (Appleton). 

Aldous Huxley’s Words and their Meanings (Ward Ritchie). 

William James’s Pragmatism (Longmans). 

Wendell Johnson’s People in Quandaries (Harper). 



XVI 


ACKNOWLEDGMENTS 


Kasner and Newman’s Mathematics and the Imagination (Simon and 
Schuster). 

A. J. Liebling’s The Wayward Pressman. 

Katherine Mansfield’s The Garden Party (Constable). 

Jules Masserman’s Principles of Dynamic Psychiatry (Saunders). 
Charles Morris’s Signs , Language and Behaviour (Prentice- Hall). 
Lewis Mumford’s The Culture of Cities (Seeker & Warburg). 
Jawaharlal Nehru’s Autobiography (Lane). 

Ogden and Richard’s The Meaning of Meaning (Kegan Paul). 

Jean Piaget’s The Child 9 s Conception of the World (Kegan Paul). 
James Harvey Robinson’s The Mind in the Making (Harper). 

P. A. Sorokin’s Alan and Society in Calamity (Dutton). 

Clarence Streit’s Union Now (Cape). 

Wellek and Warren’s Theory of Literature (Harcourt, Brace). 

E. B. White’s Quo Vadimus? (Harper). 

William Allen White’s Forty Years on Main Street (Rinehart). 

Lee Wulff’s The Handbook of Freshwater Fishing (Lippincott). 

Lin Yutang’s The Wisdom of Confucius. 

And articles in the Chicago Sun-Times , New Masses , The Nation , 
New Republic , New Statesman and Nation , Pittsburgh Courier , and the 
Political Science Quarterly . 



Index 


Ability to understand and use lan- 
guage, 92 

Abstract definitions of words, 58 
Abstraction, and selection, 50 
blocking of process, 178 
confusion in, 187-88, 191 
consciousness of, 192, 298 
“dwH-level,” 177-80 
distrust of, “1 75 
from abstraction, 174 
higher- and lower-level, 206 
interplay of levels, 179 
ladder, diagram of, 169 
levels, 1 12, 153, 170, 175, 253 
lower, 187 
process, 166-70 
reason for, 168 
test of, 1 77 

verbal, 167; and nonverbal, 179 
Abuse of words, 63 
“Academic** mind, 259 
Acquisition of knowledge, 31-32 
Action. See Behavior 
Adaptation, and fixation, 285 
institutional, 281 
Address, cjjrect, 119 
Adjustment, and maladjustment, 
psychological, 148 
institutional, 285 
to verbal climate, 20 
Adult, definition of, 296 
Adulthood and infantilism, 193 
Advertising, 93-95, 103, 262-66 
function of, 263-64 
of advertising, 264-65 


Advice to the literal-minded, 77 
Affective communication. See Com- 
munication 

Affective connotation. See Connota- 
tion 

Affective elements, 119 
Affectiveness of facts, 126 
Agreement, establishment of, 72, 73 
on symbols, 25 

on terms, 60, 240, 242; necessity 
for, 40 

social. See Contracts, social 
Aims, 260 

“All,” knowing of, 295 
Allegiances, 109 
Alliteration, 83 

Allocation, correct, of meaning, 45 
Allowances for personal “slant,” 50 
Allusion, 124 
“Americanism,” 254 
Amount of knowledge, 16 
“An American Dilemma,” by Frank 
Tannenbaum, 269 
Analysis, self, 298-301 
Anger, and fear, 282 
expression in words, 87 
Animal and human language, 14, 76, 
143 

Animals, and symbols, 24 
as models, 11-13 

Animate and inanimate objects, 121 
Anti-Semidsm. See “Jew” 

Antithesis, use of, 120 
Ants as models, 12 
Anxiety. See Worry 



XV 111 


INDEX 


Aphorisms, 212-13 
Aphorisms of Confucius , cited, 10 
Appeals, emotional, 104 
nonverbal, 102 
to supernatural powers, 107 
Applications, 22, 34, 51, 65, 79, 93, 
136, 155* *79» 194, 206, 218, 242, 
266 

Approach, extensional, 281-85 
Approval and disapproval, expression 
of, 45 

Archaic and obsolete verbiage, 107 
Areas of meaning, 65 
Argument. Sec Debate 
Armaments and war, 274 
Armstrong, Louis, cited, 54 
“Army from Mars,” 29 
Arnold, Thurman W., cited, 100 
Art, and tension, 143-61 
as oraer, 15 1 
purpose of, 154 
Aspirations, 260 

Associations, free, of words, 354 
Assumptions about language, 21 
Astrology, belief in, 33 
Atomic bomb, 12 
Attention, misdirection of, 202 
Attitudes, institutionalized, 303-04 
scientific, 286-88 
Attractions, phonetic, 119 
“Auditory imagination,” 117 
Aura of feelings in words, 83, 84 
Authors. See Writers 
Autobiography, by Lincoln Steffens, 
U4 

Autocrat of the Break] ast Table , by 
Oliver Wendell Holmes, cited, 
2 36 

Autointoxication with words, 256 
Avoidance of certain terms, 86 

“Backward” peoples, 223 
Bacon, Francis, cited, 165 


“Bad” and “good,” 221-23, 227-28, 
232, 235 

Balance, ecological, 13 
Balancing of opinion. See Orientation 
Banking, 277 
Barrier of words, 251 
Battleground of conversation, 237-39 
Beard, Charles and Mary, The Rise 
of American Civilization, 174 
Bearing the unbearable, 443 
Behavior, human, 280 
changing, 286 

group, patterns of (institutions), 
105-06, 275, 289 

thought, behavior, and language, 
22 

Behavior and Neurosis , by Jules Mas- 
serman, 144, note 
Believing and seeing, 188, 192 
Benet, Stephen, Rain After a Vaude- 
ville Show, cited, 184-85 <' 
Bennett, Arnold, Literary Taste: How 
to Form It, cited, 155 
Bessie, the Cow, 165-69 
Bewilderment, 153 
Bias, discovery of, 49 
See also Prejudice; Slanting 
Bible, cited, 52, 183, 184, 291 
Bibliography, 309-12 
Bills, legislative. See Law 
Blake, William, cited, 243, 248 
Blind alleys, intellectual, 213 
Blockages,' mental, 286 
See also Bias; Prejudices; Slanting 
Bloomfield, Leonard, cited, 38 
Bomb, atomic, 12 

Books cited, 6, 10, 11, 18, 24, 25-26, 
29» 35> 36> 37 y b>, 69, 79, note; 
82, 1 12, 1 15, 117, 129-30, 138, 139, 
140, 141, 144, note; 155, 156, 164, 
1 8 1, 182-84, 22 7y 236, 242-44, 250, 
268, 278, 299 



INDEX 


XIX 


Books, big, dependence on, 296 
great, 297-98 

reading toward sanity, 304-07 
Brand names, connotations of, 85 
Brave 'New World , by Aldous 
Huxley, 12 

Bridgman, P. W., cited, 208 
Browning, Robert, cited, 140 
Burgess, Gelett," cited, 186 
Burke, Kenneth, cited, 143, 145, 146, 
147 

Philosophy of Literary Form , cited, 
145, note 

Burroughs, Edgar Rice, 146 
Business, 204-05 
ethics, 201 

Busings. . ven, marginal, 199-201, 204 

“Calculation,” 168 

“Calling a spade a spade,” 91 

Calling of names, 45 

Callinf things by their right names, 6 

Candor, 91 

Cantril, Hadley, The Invasion from 
Mars , 29 

“Cat,” definition of, 241 
“Catchy” titles and slogans, 119 
Censorship, 86, 248 
government, of use of words, 20 
Ceremonies, 106, 108, 109, 174 
incomprehensible languages in, 76 
presymbolic language in, 75 
Cerf, Bennett, cited, 220 
“Certainties,” 294 
Change, fear of, 276-79 
in usage of words, 89 
Characteristics, human, 15 
Chase, Stuart, definition of “com- 
mon use,” 31 

The Tyranny of Words , cited, 35 
Cheers, 76 
Children, lost, 295 
make-believe of, 29. note 


Child's Conception of the World , 
The , by Jean Piaget, cited, 35 
Chimpanzees : A Laboratory Colony, 
by Robert M. Yerkes, cited, 24 
“Chimpomat” of J. B. Wolfe, 24 
Chisholm, Francis P., cited, 221 
Choosing the right words, 6 
Churchgoers and nonchurchgoers, 
253-55 ^ 

Circular thinking, 254-55 
Circumlocution, 86, 88 
Classical literature, 150 
Classification, 208-20 
results, predictable, 216 
Clemens, Samuel L., cited, 137, 219 
Climate, verbal, adjustment to, 20 
Clothes as symbols, 25-26 
Cohen, Morris R., cited, 271 
Cohesion, social, affirmation of, 77 
language of, 69-81 

Coleridge, Samuel Taylor, on poetry, 
144 

Combat and two-valued orientation, 
22-23 

Combative spirit, 231 
“Comic” books, 151 
“Common sense,” defined by Stuart 
Chase, 31 

Communication, human, 13-15 
affective, and scientific, 135 
affective, language of, 101, 117-42 
affective, task of, 132 
establishment of, 72 
fieedom of, 248-51 
lines of, 238-39 
maintenance of line, 74 
obstacles to, 86 
Communion, Phatic, 69 
Communism, 298 

Compacts with society. See Contracts, 
social 

Comparisons of desires, 233 
Competition in business, 205 



XX 


INDEX 


Competition of animals, inter- and 
intra-specific, 12-13 
Competition, social, 17 
Complacency, 256 

“Comprehensive Theory of Personal- 
ity, A,” by Carl R. Rogers, 299, 
note 

Conclusions. See Judgments 
Conflict in society, 17 
Confucius, %Aphorisms, cited, 10 
Confusion of symbols and things, 29- 
30 

Connection between symbol and 
thing symbolized, not necessary, 

27 

Connection of word and thing, 189 
Connotation, 58-60, 82-86 
affective, 84, 212 
and denotation, 253-54 
and directives, 214 
definition of, 58 

informative and affective, 82, 83 
informative, control over, 92 
“Consciousness of abstracting,*' 298 
Conservatism, 275-76, 278, 289, 303 
Contexts, 54-68; 253 
and meaning, 60-62 
ignoring of, 62 
verbal and physical, 56-58 
Continuum of events, 31-32 
Contract, social, 105, 108, 1 10-12 
language of, 100-16 
Contradictions in life, 153 
Control, over informative connota- 
tions, 92 

social, language of, 100-16 
Controversy, 236 
Convention, 303 

Conversation, social, 7, 71, 174, 136 
battleground, 237-39 
purposeless, 74-75 
unoriginal, value of, 73 


Co-operation, cultural and intellec- 
tual, 13-18, 104, 106, 136 
international, 281 
intraspecific, 22 
withdrawal of, 18 
See also Pooling of knowledge 
Co-operative Builder , The, cited, 113 
Co-ordination of effort, 18 
Country Squire in the White House, 
by John T. Flynn, cited, 242-43 
Cow, Bessie, 165-69 
Cowj, etc., 213-17 
Criminal, “John Doe,” 191-92 
Cross-examination, 43-44 
“Cult of the Proper Word, The,” by 
Margaret Schlauch, 244-45 „ 

Cultural lag, 275-79 
Culture, pre-monetary, 196 
Culture of Cities , The, by Lewis 
Mumford, cited, 138 
Cummings, E. E., cited, 122 

Daily use of words, 20 
Dante, 147 

Darwin, Charles, Origin of Species, 
297 

Daydreaming, 261 
Debate, non-sense, 60 
pitfalls of, 236 
useless, over meanings, 59-60 
Deception, self, 302, 304 
Declaration of Independence, cited, 

113 

Defeating one’s own ends, 231 
Definitions, 171-75, 253 ' 
abstract, of words, 58 
dictionary, care in using, 65 
in mathematics, 241 
of language, 27 
Degrees of judgment, 232 
Delaying of reactions, 193 
Deluge of words, 262 
Delusional words, 102-93 



INDEX 


XXI 


Democracy, 57, 173-74 
multi-valued orientation in, 233 
Denotation, 58-60 
and connotation, 253-54 
definition of, 58 

Dependence on one’s experience 
alone, 15 

Description, self, 302 
Desire for impartiality, 49 
Desires, comparison of, 233 
Development of language, 70 
“Dialectical Materialism and General 
Semantics,” by Anatol Rapoport, 
298, note 
Dialects, 89 
C^hotomy, 235 
DicuL.. ^jes and grammars, 54 
as “authorities,” 56 
care in using, 64 
lexicographer, definition of, 55 
limitations of, 54, 56, 58 
mailing of, 54-56 
Differences, and similarities, 253 
in feelings, 131 
in meanings of words, 60-62 
sense of, 13 1 
Differentiation, 304 
Difficulties, 19 

Directive use of language, ior, in, 

m 

coercion by, 106 
implied promises, 103 
with collective sanction, 106-10 
Directives, and connotations, 214 
and disillusionment, hi 
social, 109 
Disagreement, 7 
Disappointments, 104 
Disapproval and approval, expres- 
sions of, 45 

Discontent, socialization of, 147 
Disillusionment, 256 
and directives, in 
Disorder, systems of, 293 


Disputes, 236 

Distinctions. See Orientation 
Distribution of knowledge by print- 
ing, 16 

Distrust, widespread, 197 
Diversion of attention from real 
issues, 232 

“Doe, John,” criminal, 191-92 
Donne, John, 145, 150 
Dostoevski, Feodor, 150 
Double task of language, 82 
Drama, symbolization in, 28 
Dream books, 33 
“Drifters,” 295 

ETC A Review of General Se- 
mantics, by Charles I. Glicksberg, 

36 

Ecological balance, 13 
Economic order, 277 
Economic things and symbols, 196 
Editorialists and orators, 45 
Education, 15 

directive and informative, 259 

early restriction of, 248 

miseducation, 265 

sex, 87, 258 

tasks of, 257 

universal, 251 

Education of T. C. Mits, by Lillian 
and Hugh Lieber, 18-22 
Effective use of language, 101 
Effects, by sound, 119 
of use of words, on human life, 20 
Effort, co-ordination of, 18 
Einstein, Albert, on laws of mathe- 
matics, 241 

Eliot, T. S., cited, 117 
Elmer Gantry, by Sinclair Lewi% 
cited, 255 

Emotion, expression of, 235 
“Emotion,” 82, note 
Emotional appeals, 104 
End of the road, 285-86 



xxn 


INDEX 


Endings, “happy,” 134 
Endymion, by John Keats, cited, 55 
Enterprise, free, 205 
Enthusiasm of the mature and of 
the immature, 297 
Environment, semantic, 22, 31 
Equality, social, 205 
“Equalization” in controversy, 236 
“Equipment for living,” 146, 149 
“Escape,” literary, 146, 260-61 
Essentiality of co-operation, 18 
Ethics, 176* 
business, 201 

Euphemisms. See Circumlocution 
Evaluation of words and tilings, 29-31 
Evaluation, self, 298-301 
Evaluative process, misuse of, 266 
Events, continuum of, 31-32 
extensional, 170 
future, and words, 100 
memorable, 109 
nonlinguistic, 44 
reports of, 31-32 
Everyday uses of language, 92 
“Evil.” See “Bad” and “good” 
Evolution, linguistic, 69 
Exchange of information, 135 
Exchange of words, 7 
Experience, actual and symbolic, 133 
and report, 32 
benefiting by, 17 
data of, 152 
direct and indirect, 32 
integrating, 154 
learning from, 213, 305 
of others, learning from, 15 
overgeneralization of, 238 
symbolic (vicarious), 132, 135, 144 
Expression of feelings, 235 
Extensional and intensional meaning, 
58-60, 62 

Extensional and verbal words, 32 
Extremes in thinking, 295 


“Fact” and opinion, 43 
Facts, affectiveness of, 126 
and judgments, 47, 88 
and words, 253, 305 
observable, and judgments, 48 
Fair-mindedness, 233 
Fallacy, “one word one meaning,” 
60-62 

Fantasy-living, 149 

Farewell to Arms, A, by Ernest 
Hemingway, cited, 129-30 
Farewells and greetings, 71 
Fear and anger, 282 
Fear of change, 276-79 
Federal and states* rights, 284 
Federal Deposit Insurance Corpora- 
tion, 277 

Feelings, and reactions, 196 
differences in, 131 
expression of, 46, 235 
in words, aura of, 83, 84 
individual, expression in liteHture, 
130 

shades of, 126 
Fiction, magazine, 260 
Fight for survival. See Survival of 
the fittest 

Fighting. See Combat 
Figures of speech. See Metaphor, and 
simile 

“Fine** writing, 118 
Fittest, survival of. See Survival of 
the fittest 

Fixation apd adaptation, 285 
Flood of words, 262 » 

Flynn, John T., Country Squire in 
Jie White House, cited, 242-43 
Fools and wise men, 236 
“Forbidden’* words, 189 
Foreign languages, use of, 27-28 
Formulas, verbal, dependence on, 297 
Forty Years on Main Street, by Wil- 
liam Allen White, cited, 243-44 
Foundations of society, 105 



IN 

Frank, Glenn, case of, 252 
“Frankness,” 91 

Freedom of communication, 248-51 
Frontier in American History, The , 
by Frederick Jackson Turner, 174 
Frustration, animal and human, 144, 
178, 271-73 

Functions of language, 10, 69, 305-06 
of presymbol ic language, 77 
Future, the, control by words, 100-01, 
103, 1O5 

Garden Party , The, by Katherine 
Mansfield, cited, 1 40-41 
General and specific terms, 168, 178 
generalizations, 153 
GeoL. 1^239 
Germany, 22.4-26 
Gestures, use of, 102, 108, 136 
vocal equivalents of, 70 
Gilbert, W. S., cited, 115 
Glidksberg, Charles I., ETC.: A 
Review of General Semantic*, 
cited, 36 

“Golden Rule” of Jesus, 176 
“Good” and “bad.” See “Bad” 
Government censorship of use of 
words, 20 

Grammar, teaching of, 258 
Grammars. See Dictionaries 
Grapes of Wrath , The , by John 
Steinbeck, 306 
Greetings and farewells, 71 
Gregariousness (herd instinct), 14 
Groups, Jiiscussions involving, 88 
habits, revision of, 279-81 
“race” and “nationality,” 21 1 
speeches in, 75 
Guesses, 42 

Guilt, feeling of, 301-02 

Habits, group, revision of, 279-81 
linguistic, 7, 22 


E x xxiii 

Handbook of Freshwater Fishing, by 
Lee WulfT, cited, 113 
Happenings. See Events 
“Happy” endings, 134 
Ilayakawa, S. I., language. Thought , 
and Action, cited, 115 
Hemingway, Ernest, A Farewell to 
Arms , cited, 129-30 
Henley, William Ernest, cited, 145 
Herd instinct (gregariousness), 14 
Heritage of knowledge and experi- 
ence, *5, 17., 33 
Hershberger, Ruth, cited, 248 
History, and literature, study of, 125 
teaching of, 259 
Hitler, Adolf, 225 

Hidcr, Adolf, and His Associates, 
Lunacy Becomes Us, cited, 227, 
note 

Holmes, Doctor Oliver Wendell, 
Autocrat of the Break] as t Table, 
■Sted, 236 

Holme:;, Justice Oliver Wendell, cited, 
208 

Homer, Odyssey, cited, 12 
“Honor,” 294 

Houseman, John, “Tide Men from 
Mars,” 29 

blousing problem, 279-80 
Housman, A. E„ cited, 137, 159-61 
How Natives Thinks by Levy-Bruhl, 
cited, 189 

Hulmc, T. E., cited, 1S6 
“Human nature,” 19, 21 
Human relations, 7 
Humor, irony, and pathos, 125 
Humphries, Roife, cited, 97 
Huse, H. R., The Illiteracy of the 
Literate , cited, 54 
Huxley, AUlous, cited, 22S 
Brave New World , 12 
Words and Their Meanings , cited, 
164 

Hyperbole, 120 



XXIV 


INDEX 


Hypertensions. See Tensions 
Hypnotism, verbal, 118 
Hypotheses, working, 287 

Ideals, 260 
Ideas. See Judgment 
Identification of oneself with a per- 
son in a story, 133 
Ignorance, 256, 2 78 
Illiteracy of the Literate, The, by H. 

R. Huse, cited, 54 
Ills of life. See Difficulties 
“Imagination, auditory,” 117 
Immaturity. See Mind 
Impartiality in thinking, 221 
desire for, 49 

Impartiality in writing reports, 47-53 
Implications of words, 21 
Importance of words, 21 
Inanimate and animate objects, 12 1 
Incongruity, 126 
Inconsistencies in action, 204-06 
Indecision, 153 
Index numbers, use of, 214 
Indians (Asiatic) in South Africa, 
prejudice against, 204, note 
Inertia, institutional, 275-76, 278 
Infantilism and adulthood, 193 
Inferences, 41-42 
and judgments, 38 
avoidance in making reports, 42 
definition of, 41 
from inferences and reports, 32 
Inferiority, feeling of, 301-03 
Infinite-valued orientation, 235, 236 
Influences, semantic, 30-31 
Information, dissemination of, 248 
false, 39 

Informative and directive utterances, 
hi 

Informative connotations, control 
over, 92 

Informative uses of language, 69 
Inheritance. See Heritage 


Inhumanity, 227 
Injustices. See Prejudices 
“Innocence,” preservation of, 258, 
note 

Insecurity, feeling of, 301-03 
Instinct, 101 

Institutions, definition of, and in- 
ertia in, 275-76, 289 
old and new, 277 
Instruction. See Education 
Instruments, use of, 166-67 
Insurance, social, 3-5 
Integration of literature, 154 
Intensional and extensional meaning, 
58-60, 62 

Interaction of words, 64 
Interests, limited, 305 
real and imagined, 285 
Interpretations of words, 60-62 
problems of, 69 
Interpretative reporting, 98 
Interspecific and intraspecific fpm- 
petition of animals, 12-13 
“Intuition,” 70 

Invasion from Mars, The, by Hadley 
Cantrill, 29 

“Invictus,” by William Ernest Hen- 

ley, 145 

Irony, pathos, and humor, 125 
Issues, social, 282-83 

James, William, cited, 68 
Japanese, 30, 73, 226 
Jefferson, Thomas, 174 
Jesus, “Golden Rule” of, 176 
“Jew,” 189-91, 196-204, 21 1 
Neg~o anti-Semitism, 203 
Johnson, Samuel, cited, 155, 184 
Johnson, Wendell, People in Quan- 
daries, 37, 67; cited, 177; cited, 

178; 253 

Judgments, 42-44 
and facts, 47, 88 
and inferences, 38 



INDEX 


XXV 


Judgments (Cont.) 
and reports, 301-03 
and thought, 46 
and words, 21 
conflicting, 46 
definition of, 42 
forming one’s own, 126-27 
hasty, 46 
scales of, 232 

See also Orientation; Bias; Pre- 
judices; Slanting 

Judicial process, 234 [150 

jungle, The, by Upton Sinclair, 147, 
Juries, 234 

Kasncr and Newman, Mathematics 
the Imagination, cited, 181- 

Keats, John,' Endymion, cited, 55 
“Know thyself,” 298-301 
Knowing “all,” 295 
Knowledge, accumulation and trans- 
mission, 143 

effective, definition of, 288 
extent of, 297 

false and useless, 32, 33, 256 
heritage of, 15, 33 
oral transmission of, 16 
pooling of, 15, 223, note 
pretensions to, 237, note 
traditional, 16 

Korzybski, Count Alfred, author of 
Manhood of Humanity: The 
Science and Art of Human En- 
gineering , and of \ Science and 
Sanity: An Introduction to Non- 
Aristotelian Systems and General 
Semantics, 6, 24, 37, 170, 185, 
188, 214 

Labor unions, 204, 238, 273 
Ladder, abstraction, diagram of, 169 
Ladder, social, climbing of, 200-01 
Lag, cultural, 275-79 


Lane, Rose Wilder, cited, 244-45 
Langer, Suzanne K., cited, 24 
Language about language, 14 
Language, use of. See specific head- 
ings in the Index 

Language, Thought, and Action, by 
S. I. Hayakawa, cited, 215 
Lardner, Ring, The Love Nest and 
Other Stories, cited, 139-40 
Lash, Joseph P., in New Republic, 
cited, 229, 230 
Law, definition of, 106 
enforcement of, 107 
making of, 234-35, 237 
Lawrence, D. H., “Morality and the 
Novel,” in Phoenix , cited, 156- 
57 

Lazarus, Emma, cited, 114 
Learning, from experience, 213 
willingness to learn, 239 
Learning the meanings of words, 57 
Lecky, Prescott, Self-Consistency: A 
Theory of Personality, 299, note 
Left-hand door again, 288-89 
“Leftist” and “rightist,** 285 
Legislation. See Law 
Lenin, Nikolai, 228, 298 
Levels, extensional, 173 
Levels of abstraction. See Abstracuon 
Levels of writing, 128 
Levy-Bruhl, How Natives Thin\, 
cited, 189 

Lewis, Sinclair, Elmer Gantry, criti- 
cism of, 255 

Lexicographers, definition of, 55 
Liberalism, definition of, 271 
Lieber, Lillian and Hugh, books 
cited, 18-22 

Liebling, A. J., The Wayward Press- 
man, cited, 37, 250 
Life, and literature, 151 
at various levels, 132 
preparation for, 32 
simple and complex, 26 



XXVI 


INDEX 


Likenesses and differences, 253 
Lilienthal, David, TV A: Democracy 
on the March, 174, 277-78 
Limitations and powers of symbols, 
3 1 

Limitations of words, in 
Lincoln, Abraham, 174 
Literacy, general, 251 
Literal-minded, advice to, 77 
Literary Taste: How to Form It, by 
Arnold Bennett, cited, 155 
Literature, and history, study of, 125 
and life, 151 

and science, 135; difference be- 
tween, 132 

artistic or esthetic values, 15 1 

classical, 150 

definition of, 132 

“escape,” 260-61 

functions of, 143-44 

integration of, 154 

materials, 154 

purpose, 130 

“rules,” 154 

uses, 135, 149 

See also Books 

“Little Man Who Wasn’t There,” 

186 

Locke, John, cited, 38 
Logic, and misunderstanding, 240-41 
definition of, 240 
“probability” of, 239, 242, note 
two- valued, 239, 242 
Lost children, 295 

Love Against Hate, by Karl Men- 
ninger, cited, 79, note 
I jive Nest, The, and Other Stories , 
by Ring Lardner, cited, 139-40 
Loyalty to institutions, 275 
“Luck,” good and bad, 233 
Ludicrous effect, 126 
Lunacy Becomes Us, by AdoJf Hitler 
and His Associates, cited, 227, 

note 


MacLeish, Archibald, cited, 138 
Magazines, 127 

and newspapers, opinions, 233 
fiction, 260 

“Magic,” good and bad, 223 
word, 87, 109, 189 
Maier, Norman R. F., experiments 
with neurosis in rats, 271-73 
Make-believe of children, 29, note 
Making things happen, 100 
Maladjustment and adjustment, psy- 
chological, 148 
social, 285 

Malinowski, Bronislaw, cited, 69 
Man and Society in Calamity , by 
Pitirim A. Sorokin, cited, 182-83. 
“Man in the street,” 18-22 
Mansfield, Katherine, Tht* Garden 
Party, cited, 140-41 
Maps, false and true, 32, 33 
“Maps” and “territories,” 31, 32, 33, 
40, 93, 101, 103, 108, 111,^30, 
'35. M9. '93. 204-06, 240, 253, 
254, 258, note ; 260, 278, 287, 297, 
298, 299, 303, 307 

Marginal businessmen, 191-201, 204 
“Mars, army from,” 29 
Marx, Karl, 228, 298 
Masserman, Jules, Behavior and Neu- 
rosis, 144, note 

Principles of Dynamic Psychiatry, 
cited, 1 8o- 8 1 

Materials of literature, 154 
Mathematics, 170, 174 
deli onions' in, 241 

Mathematics and the Imagination , by 
Kasncr and Newman, cited, 181- 
82 

Matter, 165 

Mature mind, definition of, 295 
Maturity and immaturity, 134. 151 
Meaning, allocation of, 45 
and context, 60-62 
areas of, 65 



INDEX 


XXV11 


Meaning (Cont.) 
extensional, 210 

extensional and intensional, 58-60, 
62 

Meanings of names. See Classification 
Meanings of words, learning, 57 
new and old, 56 
shifting, 60-62 
true, 19, 55 

Means used in affective language, ior 
Mechanical processes of distributing 
knowledge, 16 
Mechanisms, of relief, 145 
social, 288 

Memory, dependence on, 16 
Men and animals, 143 
HfcpQ. and rats, 271-90 
“Men fcdm Mars, The,” by John 
Houseman, 29 

Menninger, Karl, Love Against Hate , 
cited, 79, note 
M^ital blockages, 286 
Metaphor, and simile, 120, 122 
dead, 123 

Midsummer Night's Dream , A, by 
William Shakespeare, cited, 93 
Miles, Josephine, cited, 143 
Military security, 136 
Mind, ‘‘academic,*’ 259 
blocked, 286. See also Prejudices 
immaturity and maturity, 134 
mature, definition of, 295 
Misdirection of attention, 202 
Mi sec luc at ion, 265 
Miscvaluation, 29, 253, *293, 303 
Misfortunes. See Difficulties 
Misinformation, deliberate, 39 
Misunderstanding and logic, 240-41 
“Mils” and “Wits ” 18-22 
Mils, Wits, and Logic, by Lillian and 
Hugh Licber, 18-22 
Montaigne, cited, 221 
“Morality and the Novel,” in 
Phoenix , by D. H. Lawrence, 
cited, i 56-57 


Morris, Charles W., Signs , Language 
and Behavior, cited, 183-84 
Mother Goose, cited, 69 
Motion pictures, symbolization in, 28 
Multi-valued orientation, 232-35, 238 
Mumford, Lewis, The Culture 0} 
Cities , cited, 138 

Murphy, Gardner, Personality: A 
Biosocial Approach to On gins 
and Structure , 299, note 

Name-calling, 45 
Names, brand, 265 
connotations of, 85 
right, calling things by, 6 
Naming things. See Classification 
“Nationality” and “race,” 21 1 
“Nature, human,” 19, 21 
Nazis, 224-26 

Necessity for agreement on terms, 40 
Negroes, 21 1 

and Henley’s “Invictus,” 146 
anti-Semitism, 203 
businessmen, 199-201, 202 
“Nigger,” use of term, 90 
Nehru, Jawaharlal, on socialism, 266- 
68 

Nervous breakdowns, 271-73 
political, 286 
Neuroses, 271-72 
New Republic, cited, 255, note 
article by Joseph P. Lash, cited, 
229, 230 

Newman and Kasner, Mathematics 
and the Imagination , cited, 1 Si- 
82 

News, reports of, 31-32, 50 
Newspapers, and magazines, as busi- 
ness, and as sources of informa- 
tion, 282-83 
freedom of, 248 
opinions, 233 
suppression of, 249 
Niagara of words, 18 



XXVlll 


INDEX 


“Nigger,” use o £ term, go 
Noises, accustomed sets, 77 
as expression, 69 

communication by means of, 13-15 
for noises* sake, 71 
meaningless, 174 
muscular, 44 

Nomenclature. See Classification 
Non-sense arguments, 60 
Nonsense questions, 209, 288, 289 
Nonverbal affective appeals, 102 
Notions. See Judgments 
Novels, 151 
and novelists, 153-54 
writing, art of, 133 
Numbers, index, use of, 214 

Oaths, 107, 144 
Objects. See Things 
Obligations, social, 106 
Obscenity, 87 

Obsolete and archaic verbiage, 107 
Obstacles in way of communication, 
86 

Odyssey, by Homer, cited, 12 
Ogden and Richards, cited, 82 
“One word one meaning*' fallacy, 
60-62 

Open-mindedness, 233 

Opinion, public, restrictions on, 251. 

See also Judgments; Orientations 
Opportunity in America, 204 
Opposites, thinking in, 221 
Oral transmission of knowledge, 16 
Orators, 254 
and editorialists, 45 
low-level and high-level, 198 
Order in art, 151 

Order within and without, 291-307 
Organization, social, 14 
Orientation, and logic, 239 
excessive intensional, through too 
much reading, 305 
extensional, rules for, 291-93 


Orientation (Cont.) 
infinite-valued, 235, 236 
intensional, 253; outside sources of, 
257 

multi-valued, 232-35, 238 
two-valued, 221-32, 242 
values in, 221-47 

Origin of Species, by Charles Dar- 
win, 297 

Overgeneralization of experience, 238 
Oververbalization, 253 
Ownership of property, no 

Paradoxes, 271-75 
Parent-symbol, search for, 296 
Partiality. See Bias; Prejudice; Slant- 
ing 

Particulars and principles, I'/V 
Pathos, irony, and humor, 125 
Patriotism, 277 
Patterns of behavior, 275 
Pegler, Westbrook, cited, 52 r 
People in Quandaries, by Wendell 
Johnson, 37, 67; cited, 177, 178 
“Pep” rallies, 75, 76 
Perception, 165 
Personal touch, 119 
Personality, loss of, 303 
seLf-analysis, 298-301 
Personality: A Biosocial Approach 
to Origins and Structure, by 
Gardner Murphy, 299, note » 
Personification, 123 
Pessimism, cause of, 79 
Pharisees, 30, *hote 
Phatic Communion, 69 
Philosophers, 26 

Philosophy of Literary Form, by 
Kenneth Burke, cited, 145, note 
Phoenix, “Morality and the Novel,” 
by D. H. Lawrence, cited, 156-57 
Phonetic attractions, 119 
Piaget, Jean, The Child* s Conception 
of the World, cited, 35 



INDEX 


XXIX 


Pitfalls of debate, 236 
Platforms, political, 112 
Playing on words in advertising, 263 
Plays, symbolization in, 28 
Poetry, 143 

as “equipment for living,” 146 
definition of, 132, 143-44 
figures of speech in, 122 
function of, 148 
Poets, definition of, 306 
“Policing’' of language, 240 
Political Ideals , by Bertrand Russell, 
cited, 139 

Political platforms, 112 
Politicians, 104, 179 
Politics, in the classroom, 258, note 
iv\' ■** valued orientation in, 223 
Pooling Vf knowledge, 15, 223, note 
Pound, Ezra, cited, 157-58 
Power and wealth, 278 
Powers and limitations of symbols, 31 
Prvtice and preaching, 196 
Preconceptions. See Prejudices 
Predictability of human behavior, 
105-06 

Predictions, 282 
and reports, 43 
Prejudice, 193, 212 
racial, 88. See also Japanese; “Jew”; 
Negroes 

Pre-monetary culture, 196 
Preparation for life, 32 
Prerogatives. See Privileges 
Press, freedom of, 248 * 

Presymbolic and symbolic language, 

7 °> 77 , 78 

Pretensions to knowledge, 237, note 
Prevention of silence, 72 
Price system and profit economy, 280 
Primitive peoples, 223 
Principles and particulars, 178 
Principles of Dynamic Psychiatry , by 
Jules Masserman, cited, 180-81 


Printing, distribution of knowledge 
by, 16 

Privilege, 278 

Privileged and underprivileged per- 
sons, 7 

“Probability, logic of,” 239, 242, note 
Problems, “insoluble,” 271-75 
Process, symbolic. See Symbols 
Profanity, 144 

Profit economy and price system, 280 
Progress through language, 15 
Promises, 112 

implied, of directive language, 103 
Promotional work, 5 
Proof, indirect, 239 
Propaganda, 63, 104, 282 
definition of, 228 
Property, ownership of, no 
Prosperity. See Wealth 
“Proving” the rule, 212-13 
Psychiatrists, 301 
Psychoanalysis, 300 
Publicity. See Propaganda 
Purr-words and snarl-words, 44-46, 
70 , 144 

Questions, answering ambiguously, 
252 

nonsense, 288, 289 

Quo Vadimus? by E. B. White, cited, 
141 

Races. See Groups 
Radio, 250 
taboos in, 87 

Rain After a Vaudeville Show, by 
Stephen Benet, cited, 184-85 
Rapoport, Anatol, “Dialectical Mate- 
rialism and General Semantics,” 
298, note 

Rationalization, 300, 302 
Rats and men, 271-90 
Reactions, and feelings, 196 
automatic, to advertising, 262 



INDEX 


XXX 

Reactions (Cont.) 
delaying of, 193 
fixated, 274 
mental, 186-87 
pathological, to words, 266 
to words, 188 
Reading, effect of, 304 
value of, 132 
See also Books 
Realism, 11 

Realities and symbols, 30 
“Reality,” 21 1 
Reality and language, 21 
Reed, Henry, cited, 158-59 
Re-evaluation, self, 302 
Relations, human, 7 
Relief for unemployed, 1-3 
Relief mechanisms, 145 
Religious ceremonies. See Ceremonies 
Religious taboos, 87 
Remarks. See Conversation 
Remedies, social, 289-90 
Remembrance. See Memory 
Repetition, 83, 108 
Reports, and experience, 32 
and predictions, 43 
false or imaginary, 43 
inference, report, and judgment, 
192, 301-03 
interpretative, 98 

language of, 38-53; double use, 82 
on reports, 14, 31-32 
reliance on, 39 

trustworthy and untrustworthy, 39 
value of writing, 41 
verifiable, 38-40 
Respect for words, 252 
Responsibility, social, 109 
Results, demand for, 288 
of classification, predictable, 216 
Revision of group habits, 279-81 
Rhetoric and two-valued orientation, 
235 

Rhythm, definition of, 83 


Richards and Ogden, cited, 82 
Riches. See Wealth 
“Rightest” and “leftist,** 285 
Rights, states’ and federal, 284 
“Rights,” 1 1 0-12 

Rise of American Civilization , The, 
by Charles and Mary Beard, 174 
Rites, religious. See Ceremonies 
Road, end of the, 285-86- 
Robinson, James Harvey, cited, 11 
Rogers, Carl R., “A Comprehensive 
Theory of Personality,” 299 
Roosevelt, Franklin D., 242-43 
Rousseau, Jean Jacques, cited, 115 
Rule, “proving,” 212-13 
Rules for extensiona! orientation, 291- 
93 

“Rules” of literature, 154 
Rumor, 102 

Russell, Bertrand, cited, 96 
Political Ideals , cited, 139 
Russia. See Union of Soviet Sod^ist 
Republics 

Safety, military, 136 
Sanction, collective, 106-10 
Sandburg, Carl, cited, 268 
Sanity, 149 

reading towards, 304-07 
Scales of judgment, 232 
Schizophrenic, the, 266 
Schlauch, Margaret, “The Cult of the 
Proper Word,” cited, 244-45 
“Scholastic” n?ind, 259 
Science, advances in, 1 66, 276 
and literature, 135 
competence in, 282 
definition of, 132 

language of, 39, 117, 131, i 79 > 235 
social, progressive, 298 
Science and Sanity, by Alfred Korzyb* 
ski, 6, 24, 37, 170, 185, 1 88, 214 
Scientific attitude, 286-88 



INDEX 


XXXI 


Scientists, admissions of limitations, 
287 

definition of, 287, 306 
Security in life, definition of, 295 
Security, measures, 248 
military, 136 

Seeing and believing, 188, 192 
Selection, and abstracdon, 50 
of subject matter, 72 
Self-analysis, 298-301 
‘‘Self-concept,” 298-301 
Self-Consistency: A Theory of Per- 
sonality, by Prescott Lecky, 299, 
note 

Self-deception, 302, 304 

Self-description, 298, 302 

Self re-evaluation, 302 

Selfishness, 11 

Semantic environment, 22 

Sense, surface, of words, 71, 79 

Sense and non-sense, 60 

$§nses, limitation of, 165 

Sensitiveness, 294 

Sentences, periodic, 120 

Sermons, presymbolic language in, 75 

Sex education and taboos, 87, 258 

Shades of feeling, 126 

Shakespeare, William, cited, 52, 93, 

123 

Shelley, Percy Bysshe, cited, 122, 150, 

J 5 7 

Shifts in meanings of words, 60-62 
Signs, Language, and Behavior, by 
Charles W. Morris, cited, 183-84 
Silence, prevention ot, 72 
Similarities and differences, 253 
Similes, and metaphors, 120, 122, 123 
Sinclair, Upton, The Jungle, 147, 150 
Slang, 122, 123 

Slanting in wriring reports, 47-53 
Slogans, 1 19 

Smith, Logan Pearsall, cited, 196 

Snafu, the Great, 247-70 

Snarl- words and purr-words, 44-46, 70 


Social cohesion, affirmation of, 77 
language of, 69-81 
Social control, language of, 100-16 
Social conversation, 71, 174 
Social directives, 109 
Social institutions. See Institutions 
Social insurance, 3-5 
Social issues, 282-83 
Social ladder, climbing of, 200-01 
Social language, 17, 145, too- 16, 154 
Social mechanisms, 288 
Social organization, 14 
Socialism, according to Jawaharlal 
Nehru, 266-68 

Society, behind our symbols, 196-207 
compact with, 108 
foundations of, and definition of, 
104 

Sorokim, Pitirim A., Man and Society 
in Calamity, cited, 182-83 
Sound effects, 119 
Sounds. See Noises 
Sources of knowledge, printed, 16 
South Africa, prejudice against In- 
dians (Asiatic), 204, note 
Soviet Russia. See Union of Soviet 
Socialist Republics 
Speakers. See Orators 
Specific and general terms, 168, 178 
Speculations on use of language, 12 
Spender, Stephen, cited, 139 
Statement-about-a-statement, 14 
Statements, trite, 212-13 
States’ and federal rights, 284 
Steffens, Lincoln, Autobiography, 174 
Steinbeck, John, The Grapes of 
Wrath, 30 6 

Stimuli, responses to, 44 
Story-telling, art of, 133 
Stratagems, verbal. See Circumlocu- 
tions 

“Strategies, symbolic,” 145, 146 
Streit, Clarence K., Union Now With 
Britain, cited, 268-69 



INDEX 


XXX11 

Structure of language. See specific 
headings in the index 
Struggle for survival. See Survival of 
the fittest 

Study of history and literature, 125 
Subject matter, selection of, 72 
Superstition, 21, 32, 33, 109 
Surface sense of words, 71, 79 
Survival of the fittest, 11-23 
and language, 13, 22 
definition of, 22 
“Survival value,” 143 
Suspense, element of, 120 
Swearing, 144 
Symbols, 24-37 
and economic things, 196 
and experience. See Experience 
and language, 6, 27, 70, 78 
and realities, 30 
and society, 196-207 
and things symbolized, 100, 174, 
209 

language, symbolic and presym- 
bolic, 70, 78 
of symbols, 25, 152, 153 
phonetic and written, 143 
use of, 25 

Symptoms of disorder, 293 
Systems, linguistic, 6 

TV A: Democracy on the March, by 
David Lilienthal, 174, 277-78 
Taboos, 222-23 
in radio, 87 
religious, 87 
sex, 87 

verbal, 86, 189 
“Tact, unusual,” 70 
Taking words for granted, 19 
Talking, about talking, 153 
too much, 257 

See also Communication, human: 

Conversation 


Tannenbaum, Frank, “An American 
Dilemma,” cited, 269, note 
Task, double, of language, 82 
Teaching. See Education 
Technology. See Science 
Television, 250 
Temper, displays of, 293 
Tennessee Valley Authority, 174, 
277-78 

Tension and art, 143-61 
Terms, agreement on, 40, *6o, 240, 
242 

definition of, 171-75 
general and specific, 168 
“Territories” and “maps,” 31, 32, 
33. 40, 93. i°i» 103, 108, iii v 
130. i35. 149. i93. 204-0^. 240, 
253, 254, 258, note; 260, 278, 287, 
297, 298, 299, 303, 307 
Theory of Literature, by Rene Wellek 
and Austin Warren, cited, 155-56 
Theory of the leisure Class, ky 
Thorstein Veblen, 25-26 
Things, and symbols, economic, 196 
animate and inanimate, 121 
not words, 29 

symbolized, and symbols, 100 
Things-that-stand-for-other-things. 

See Symbols 

Thinking about language, 19, 21, 164 
Thompson, Francis, cited, 122 
Thoreau, Henry D., cited, 115 
Thought, and judgments, 46 
and words, 6 » 
circular, 254-55 
in opposites, 221 

language, thought, and behavior, 
22 

too much, 294 
words and thoughts, 6 
Time, cited, 52, 219 
Time zones, 40 

Titles and slogans, “catchy,” 119 



INDEX 


xxxm 


Tone, affective, 83 
Touch, personal, 119 
Traditional knowledge, 16 
Trials by jury, 234 
True Confessions, cited, 128-29 
Trust, mutual, 104 
Truth, ascertaining, 215-18 
in literature, 130 
in reports, necessity for, 40 
two senses, 259 
Truth-value, 238, 239 
Turner, Frederick Jackson, The 
Frontier in American History, 
174 

Tyranny of Words, The, by Stuart 
Chase, cited, 35 

Unbea'fcable, bearing the, 143 
Uncertainty, 295 
adjustment to, 295 
Underprivileged and privileged per- 
, sons, 7 

“Understanding,” 153 
Unemployed, relief for, T-3 
Union How With Britain, by 
Clarence K. Streit, cited, 268-69 
Union of Soviet Socialist Republics, 
one-party system, 228 
Unions, labor, 204, 238, 273 
Use of words, affective and effec- 
tive, 10 1 
daily, 20, 92 
manifold, 21 
new, for old words, 56 

Validity, descriptive, 179 
Valuation, improper habits of, 30 
Values, in orientation. See Orienta- 
tion 

verbal, manufacture of system, 254 
Vaughan, Henry, cited, 123 
Veblcn, Thorstein, Theory of the 
Leisure Class, 25-26 


Verbal and extensional worlds, 32 
Verification, 43. 

Verifiability, of reports, 38-40 
scientific, 43 

Vicarious experience. See Experience 
Vocabulary, improvement of, 19 
Voice in expression of feelings, 70 
Vows, 107-08 
Vulgarisms, 122 

Walpole, Hugh R., cited, 117 
War, and armaments, 274 
demands of, 280 

Warren, Austin, and Rene Wellek, 
Theory of Literature, cited, 155- 
56 

Wayward Pressman, The, by A. J. 

Liebling, 37, 250 
“We” and “you” device, 120 
Wealth, and power, 278 
indicated by symbols, 26, 30 
Wellek, Rene, and Austin Warren, 
Theory of Literature, cited, 155- 
56 

Wells, Orson, “Army from Mars” 
broadcast, 29 
White, E. B., cited, 51 
Quo Vadimus? cited, 141 
White, William Allen, Forty Years 
on Main Street, cited, 243-44 
Whorf, Benjamin Lee, cited, n 
Willingness to learn, 239 
Wisconsin, University of, dismissal 
of Glenn Frank, 252 
Wise men and fools, 236 
Wolfe, J. B., and his “Chimpomat,” 

24 

Word-magic, 87, 109, 189 
Words, not things, 29 
Words, uses of. See specific headings 
in the Index 

Words and Their Meanings, by 
Aldous Huxley, cited, 164 



INDEX 


XXXIV 

Wordsworth, William, cited, 124 
on poetry, 143.44 
“Work,” 168 

Worlds, delusional, 192-93 
extension al and verbal, 32 
two, in which we live, 31 
Worries, 293, 295 
Writers, tortured, 150 


Writing, communication by, 14, 15, 
16 

“fine” 1 18 

Wulff, Lee, Handbook of Freshwater 
Fishing, cited, 113 

Yerkes, Robert M., Chimpanzees: A 
Laboratory Colony, cited, 24 
“You” and “we” device, 120 




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